Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DSK & IMF: Rapists not Socialists

This smiling man standing in front of the fisted-rose logo of the French Socialists is Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He, of course, is the incredibly wealthy French businessman currently under house arrest in New York City for allegedly attempting to rape the hotel worker assigned to cleaning his room. I haven't discussed Mr. Strauss-Kahn's arrest here mostly because even the regular media seems ripe with repulsion over his alleged crime, and I didn't think there was much to add. I'm quite sorry he used his considerable wealth to buy his way out of Riker's Island jail: evidence once again of who has the power in our "free" society.

But I would just like to add one thing: Mr. Strauss-Kahn's rape attempt of the as yet publicly unnamed hotel worker is not unique; she herself is apparently an African immigrant, and Mr. Strauss-Kahn has years under his belt raping the people of Africa. Until he resigned in the wake of the charges against him, he was the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, an organization that functions something like a follow-up rapist to the poorer nations of the world. After countries in the second and third world have been robbed blind by international mega-capitalism, the IMF moves in to rape the impoverished corpses of these nations, ensuring that no matter what happens, these nations will remain naked and bleeding slaves to the rich nations of the world.

While I'm gratified to learn that DSK is at least a member of the right wing of the French Socialist Party, the very thought that such a monstrous individual with such a vile career would consider himself a socialist blows my mind. He was even once seen as a possibly successful socialist electoral challenger to the current French president. Here in the United States where "socialism" is something akin to a curse word, many people are confused about what a socialist might be. Let me say loud and clear that DSK is not it.

Let justice take its course. Hopefully he will stand trial and be convicted. Might I suggest he serve his punishment in the poorest prison in the poorest country the world can find?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Anti-war Anthems: "Bring the Boys Home" by Freda Payne

On Memorial Day Americans honor the memory of generations of soldiers who gave their lives in past wars. While every family is right to recognize the humanity of those sacrificed in this country's violent history, I've never understood why Americans allow the politicians to stand there saying "Support Our Troops" when the best way to do so would be to bring the troops home from futile and unnecessary wars waged for dubious foreign policy goals or for the profit of corporations.

"Support the Troops" is often, in fact, used to shout down opposition to this country's wars. Here's the ugly truth: those who claim to support the troops while opposing efforts to bring American soldiers home sooner rather than later are offering the same kind of support to those troops that a noose offers a hanging man. They are responsible for prolonging the tragic waste of war. The blood of America's children serving in these wars as well as the blood of innocents in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya are on their hands. Nobody wants to think that the lives of their loved ones were wasted or squandered, but wishing that doesn't make it so.

So don't talk to me about "Support our troops." Bring them home.

This song was recorded by soul singer Freda Payne back in 1971 during the Vietnam War. (I didn't know until looking for it on Youtube that it had also been remade by Canadian singer Jann Arden). I wish there was a better video available, this one is just lyrics.

"Fathers are pleading, lovers are all alone
Mothers are prayin', send our sons back home
You marched them away on ships and planes
To a senseless war facing death in vain

Bring the boys home (bring 'em back alive)
Bring the boys home (bring 'em back alive)

(Why don't you) Turn the ships around
(Everybody oughta) Lay your weapons down

Can't you see 'em marchin' 'cross the sky?
All the soldiers that have died
Tryin' to get home
Can't you see them tryin' to get home?
Tryin' to get home
They're tryin' to get home

Cease all fire on the battlefield
Enough men have already been wounded and killed
Bring the boys home (bring 'em back alive)
What they doin' over there now (bring 'em back alive)
When we need 'em over here now? (bring 'em back alive)

(Why don't you) Turn the ships around
(Everybody oughta) Lay your weapons down"

How can it be that forty years later this song is still relevant? Shame on you, America.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Who Will Tell the Truth Now that Gil Scott-Heron Is Gone?

Gil Scott-Heron had a way with words; a way with the truth.

Some people think that America invented the blues
And few people doubt that America is home of the blues

The blues has grown
by the country has not
The blues remembers everything the country forgot

America has got the blues
It's got the blues because of partial deification
of partial accomplishments
over partial periods of time
Halfway justice
Halfway liberty
Halfway equality
It's a half-assed year
And we would be silly in all our knowledge
In all our self-righteous knowledge to acknowledge anything less than the truth
About this bicentennial year
And the truth relates to 200 years of people and ideas getting by

It got by George Washington
slave-owner general

It got by Gerald Ford
Oatmeal man

Ronald Reagan, it got by him
Acted like a actor
Acted like a liberal
Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California
And he acts like somebody might vote for him for president

It got by Henry Kissinger
The international godfather of peace
A piece of Vietnam
A piece of Laos
A piece of Angola
A piece of Cuba

The blues is in the street
America has got the blues
But don't let it get by us
(Bicentennial Blues, 1976)

He had a complete vision of the way things were. He wasn't afraid to take the symbolism of America head-on. He knew the history and the facts, and he knew what it was like to experience the reality of racism, violence and hypocrisy. He knew how much life costs.

And now democracy is a ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
It looks like he's hoping, hoping for some rain
And I see the robins perched in barren treetops
Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
Just like the peace signs that that vanished in our dreams
Never had a chance to grow
And now it's winter
Winter in America

(Winter in America, 1975)

He was pissed off. And found a way to express it clearer than any. He channeled bitterness into lyric beauty. Here he is on the pardoning of Richard Nixon.

We beg your pardon because the pardon you gave this time was not yours to give.
They call it due process and some people are overdue.
We beg your pardon America.
Somebody said 'brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap, gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail.'
The main who tried to steal America is not in jail....
We beg your pardon America because we understand now much more deeply than we understood before
But we don't want to take the pardon back, we want to issue some more
Pardon brother Frank Willis, the Watergate security guard, he was only doing his job
Pardon H. Rap Brown, it was only burglary
Pardon Robert Vesco, it was only embezzlement
Pardon Charles Manson, it was only mass murder
And pardon us while we get sick
Because they pardoned William Calley, 22 dead, and America in shock....
We beg your pardon America because we have an understanding of karma
What goes around, comes around
And we beg your pardon for all of the lies and all of the people who've been ruined and who look forward to next year because they can't stand to look at this one.
We beg your pardon America because the pardon you gave this time was not yours to give.
(Pardon Our Analysis, 1975)

But Gil Scott-Heron knew how to laugh through tears. His poems — his songs — were witty and expressive and moving, but they also expressed a wry sense of humor. Mixed with outrage, for sure, and brilliance, but deadly funny.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkins strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.
(The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, 1971)

He was not always an optimistic man. His outlook could be bleak: he knew what the odds were, the strength of what he was — we are — up against.

So you cry like a baby
Or you go out and get high
But there ain't no peace on Earth, man
Maybe peace when you die
(A Sign of the Ages, 1971)

There's a sense of duty and obligation in his lyrics too. He knew what he had to do. Even as he fought his inner demons he couldn't set down his weapons in the battle for justice. I think it made him weary. But he was never able to stop, completely.

We want to be free
Yet we have no idea
Why we are struggling here
Faced with our every fear
Just to survive
We've heard the sound
And come around
To listening

(Beginnings/First Minute of a New Day, 1975)

He cut many great albums in the 1970s and some adequate ones in the 1980s. I had the sense that his tragic miscalculation about Ronald Reagan — indeed the tragic miscalculation about all of us on the left that America would actually vote a person like that into the presidency — haunted him, and dulled the certainty of his vision.

As Wall Street goes, so goes the nation
And here's a look at the closing numbers: Racism's up, human rights are down.
Peace is shaky, war items are hot — the house claims all ties.
Jobs are down, money is scarce and common sense is at an all-time low on heavy trading. Movies are looking better than ever and no one is looking because we're starring in a B-movie.
You don't need to be in no hurry
You ain't never really got to worry.
Just keep repeating that none of this is real.
This ain't really your life,
Ain't really your life,
Ain't really nothing but a movie.
(B-movie, 1981)

Gil Scott-Heron was, to all appearances, an anguished soul. He fought drug addiction his whole life, and lived that side of his life in the lyrics of his songs, openly sharing his pain. His last two records were full of the hard toll on his life. His honesty is almost painful to listen to.

Life is like a circle and you end up where you started
If you end up where you started ain't no other side
Yeah but if like is like a curtain then I'm 90% certain that I'm looking through at something
Yes I'm almost touching something on the other side
If life is like a mirror than the nearer you get clearer
You can see it so much clearer
Feel like you know about the other side
My friends all swear they know
What I should do with my life
How I should run my life
What should be happening with my life
They're on the other side
They're on the outside
I'm on the inside

(The Other Side, 1994)

Gil Scott-Heron is gone now, way too soon, at the age of 62. I'm happy for the legacy he left behind, the music; but I can't believe I never got to see him, and I can't believe there will be no more.

Early this morning
when you knocked upon my door
and I said, Hello Satan, I believe it's time to go
Me and the Devil walkin side by side
Say I don't see why you keep on dogging me around
You may bury my body down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit the Greyhound bus can ride
(I'm New Here, 2010)

Who will tell the truth now that Gil Scott-Heron is gone? Peace go with you, Brother.

Straddling the darkness
he controlled the bucking thrusts and rode on
into the emptiness that he alone would try to fill
into the middle to try to be the bridge between spirits
EXPAND he screamed
the vacuum was aroused, suspicious and alarmed
who would dare? but on he rode...

(And then he wrote Meditations, 1972)

(All italics are lyrics by Gil Scott-Heron).

UPDATE: Here's an audio tribute from my friend Blackclassical.

America Has Lost a Prophet: Gil Scott-Heron RIP

Sad news indeed: I've just learned that jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron has passed on at the age of 62. The above video is a not-so-famous later-day performance of one of his well-known songs from the 1970s, "Winter in America." His most famous songs are probably "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "The Bottle" and "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." He had a hard life frequently struggling to deal with uncontrolled substance abuse, but he was an absolutely brilliant prophet of the American condition. He pilloried all the problems of American society, and with them a succession of politicians, holding Ronald Reagan up to the light of brutal excoriation. He was a singer and a poet; indeed many people call him the originator of rap music, as his first records in the very early 1970s consisted largely of spoken-word rants over spare jazz arrangements or percussion.

I can't believe he's now gone: I'll try to come back with a greater appreciation of his work later.

(I previously presented one of his songs here.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rightwinger now calls NYC Gay Center "an anti-Israeli nest"

Back in February I wrote on the successful efforts of a pro-Israel rightwinger to prevent a pro-Palestinian activist group from holding meetings or events at New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Porn magnate Michael Lucas applied pressure to the Center's board who subsequently cancelled all meetings of the group "Siegebusters." Since I wrote about these events there has been a flurry of activity on the issue. First, members of the excluded group, largely themselves gay or lesbian activists, organized a counter-campaign to keep the Lesbian & Gay Center open to all members of the community. As the Center's policy of openness came to be in doubt, there was a lot of discussion in the activist community, especially among anti-racist activists, about whether the Center could continue to be seen as any kind of welcoming home base. There was talk of a boycott.

A related group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, requested space in the Community Center to plan activities around this year's New York Lesbian & Gay Pride celebrations. The group applied for its meeting on May 10; nearly two weeks later the request had not been answered. A third group called Queers for an Open LGBT Center — which keeps a website called "Open The Center" — called for a protest in support of the right of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

Just in the nick of time the Lesbian & Gay Center issued a statement that must be seen as at least a partial victory: "The Center recently received a request for space rental by a group called “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” for the purposes of holding recurring meetings to plan for local Pride events. This afternoon we informed the group that the Center would allow access for these meetings." The statement goes on to say that since QAIA is an "LGBT group" unlike Siegebusters, they would be granted space, provided that they sign a new "Space Use Pledge of Non Discrimination." That statement has what's no doubt meant to be a "gotcha" clause in it ("We recognize that respecting individual dignity, achieving equality and promoting intergroup harmony are the responsibilities of all people, including our group. We reject hatred and will not engage in acts or expressions of hatred directed to any person(s) or group(s). Our group will work in good faith to affirm and abide by these principles in all our activities and affairs.), which I find a little creepily naive or thought-controlly, but not a deal-breaker. The Center states it will be engaging a consulting company to review its policies; who news how that will turn out. So the new good news is that supporters of the Israeli Apartheid state have not, for now at least, succeeded in completely silencing pro-Palestinian activists at the Center. Queers for an Open LGBT Center says pressure must be kept on the Center's board.

But now here's where it gets interesting. The pro-Palestine activists were open in their suggestion that the Center needed to be pressured, and possibly boycotted. But the right-wing porn magnate (a dual US/Israeli citizen) behind the expulsion of Siegebusters issued a remarkable statement on these later developments:

"I have a very unfortunate update. The group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was just granted the ability to have their meetings in the LGBT Center. As I always believed, the LGBT Center of NY is an anti-Israeli nest and we did not put enough pressure on them to stop their efforts to harm the Jewish state. But we have the power to stop them. The LGBT Center receives city, federal, foundation, and private funding. We have to work on reaching the government officials and ask them to cut that funding unless the Center changes its decision. We should also reach out to different organizations and individuals and collect money to take a full page ad in the New York Times Magazine. I know this is not cheap and I myself will generously contribute. I also believe that their support of political activity may jeopardize their ability to maintain tax-free status. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts, input, and suggestions. I do need your help. Best regards, Michael Lucas."

The statement shows Lucas's priorities. He's not advocating discussions with the Center or the community, or even a boycott, he's talking about getting it shut down or put in legal or financial jeopardy unless it does what he tells it to do. Lucas's actions are a transparent threat to the entire lesbian and gay community to either enforce a pro-Israel-only policy or face destruction. Lucas is no friend of gay people.

I remember how exciting it was when the Lesbian & Gay Community Center first opened its doors in the 1980s. Finally there was a place to call home. You could find meetings, events, celebrations, forums, religious services, from an incredible variety of groups there. It set up policies meant to be welcoming to everybody in the community, especially those whose commununity needs were not met by the gay bar scene. While various criticisms have surfaced over the years, by and large it really is a valuable service institution to the community. In the 1990s I co-led two groups who met there all the time, New Moon New York, an open group of Pagans who held a brief weekly circle in its small cement garden, and Queer Pagans, a group of queer Pagans that held seasonal holiday rituals on a grander scale including Halloween/Samhain circles that drew hundreds of participants. We were excited to be at such a welcoming space, and proud that queer youth and transgendered people were a part of it all. Having a place where Pagans could come wasn't a threat to gay people of other forms of spirituality or to completely secular or even atheist gay people. We were all there together. While I wouldn't go to its meetings, I think a pro-Israel group should have the same right to meet at the Center as the pro-Palestine activists. What's clear is that Lucas and his ilk have no such principles: it's their way or the highway.

It's a reflection on a small scale of Israeli logic itself.

(Graphic from Desertpeace blog. "Pinkwashing" is the attempt by apologists for Israel to use its allegedly progressive attitude toward gay people to buy support for Israeli policies in the world Lesbian and Gay community).

UPDATE: For an unfortunate update, read here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A night off blogging

Hic! We will return to regular programming shortly due to extenuating circumstances. :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tornado Season

When I was a child living in Chicago in the 1960s, there were a string of terrible tornado seasons. While the twisters didn't come for us in the city, we felt the same weather systems. The sky turned green and the air pressure did strange things; the air one minute thick and damp and heavy turned wild and windy the next. Neighboring Will County was struck hard. For years afterward, every time my parents would take me on a car trip out of town, I was seized by terror that we would pass through Will County and be attacked by tornadoes. My mother later recounted to me that if they saw a "Will County" sign they would try distracting me so I wouldn't notice it and freak out.

This year the U.S. has been struck by waves of killer tornadoes: a few weeks ago in the South, yesterday in Missouri and today in Oklahoma. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands of people have been injured or lost their homes and belongings to the wind. In times like these it doesn't really seem useful to wonder — or possible to know — if these storms are just something nature is doing right now or if they're related to climate change (bizarrely we even had a small tornado here in Brooklyn a couple years ago and this is surely not tornado alley). But if I still remember the fear of being even a few dozen miles from tornadoes, I can't imagine how frightening it must be to live near where they're causing such suffering right now.

I know at least two of my regular readers live in prairie states right under those winds. Be safe, my prayers are with you. I sure hope you have basements!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Anti-war Anthems: "Ping Pong" by Stereolab

I first heard Stereolab's album "Mars Audiac Quintet" back in the mid 1990s when it came out. I was hooked on the poppy, quirky, synthy sound, but it took me a long time to zoom in on the lyrics delivered in a heavily accented and strangely deadpan voice. They're sung, like many Stereolab songs, almost as though you're not meant to understand them. But when I finally deciphered what Laetitia Sadier was singing about I was blown away. And now almost twenty years later, the lyrics of this song, "Ping Pong," continue to be remarkably apropos. I rediscovered their albums recently looking for some stuff to add to my iTunes, and was reminded how much I love their groove.

"it's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

you see the recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
it's alright recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry if things can only get better

there's only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
there's only millions that die in their bloody wars, it's alright

it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing

it's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

don't worry be happy things will get better naturally
don't worry shut up sit down go with it and be happy"

Yes, that seems to be a vaguely Marxist analysis and critique of the cynicism behind the capitalist economic cycle of crisis, war, and dehumanization of the individual. C'mon people, even hipsters can see it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Saturday afternoon the 21st of May I woke up from a short nap in glorious spring sunshine. The windows of my bedroom were open, allowing the cool and pleasantly damp spring air into the room. My soft, purring cat was nestled in the crook of my arm for warmth. The sunlight was a glorious pale yellow; I had to force myself out of bed to get ready for the evening. I got dressed and hopped on the subway, where the train clattered through the tunnels as the witching hour of 6:00 pm passed unnoticed by anything other than the red digital readout hanging from the ceiling above us. As I emerged from the subway in Manhattan the last drops of a sudden Spring shower gave way to fading twilight. I met my adorable boyfriend for dinner and then a concert of new music including three wonderful pieces played on toy pianos and kitchen mixing bowls. A reception after the concert featured chocolates and champagne, a delicious mix. We took a cab home through city streets crowded with people dressed for life's celebrations. We went to bed, and then awoke, the next day arriving on cue just like the previous one did, just as tomorrow will.

The gift of the late afternoon sunshine, warm but not yet summery hot, had filled me with a sense of well-being, a gratitude for life's small blessings. I found myself happily considering the good things in my life: the love of friends and companions, enough work to pay the bills, a comfortable home, the sounds of music filling my world, my mind creatively spinning and my body still pulsing. And I felt, well, a sense of rapture. A momentary sense of joy and peace and perfection with the world.

I'm not sorry that my world didn't end. I was pretty sure it wasn't going to. And even I, a non-Christian, know that Bible being waved around by some desperately crazy, angry and hateful people says pretty explicitly that while this life, this world, is indeed temporary, nobody can know when the end is coming. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. That's Matthew 24:36, by the way.

What kind of people are these doomsayers? Their fantasies of revenge, of self-righteousness, of warnings gone unheeded, of threats and and murder on a super-genocidal scale are almost pornographic in their visceral expression. The doom-filled prophecies of crazy fundamentalists aren't anything I recognize as spirituality or religion, they're just mean-spirited and hateful. These judgment-filled harangues are corrupt and ignorant; small-minded above all, revealing people utterly closed off to the reality of the world with all its unknowable beauty and wonder and even its often painful tragedy and loss. These people are afraid of living, afraid of being judged because they themselves are casting their eyes of bigotry about them reflecting outward their deep hate at their own humanity and the humanity of others.

I believe pretty firmly in God. I won't recount here the long journey that convinced me of that reality, and I'm grateful for the peace and blessings that my spiritual journey to a place of understanding has brought me. And I recognize a sort of miraculous randomness that bombs are not falling on my head or that I'm not living in a gutter or an open field. This has nothing to do with me being a better or worse person than anyone else, only a chain of cosmic accidents that could change abruptly tomorrow. While I have known or known of some very bad people over the years — heck I write about them here all the time — I have yet to see evidence for evil outside the human heart. Earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes and wild carnivorous animals and predatory microbes: these are just the more painful of the miracles of the living world that happen, well, for no other reason than because they have come into being.

The consciousness animating our bodies at this moment right now gets a very brief time in the world to make some choices. It's easy to make mistakes, to waste time, and sadly it's easiest of all to wind up being the victim of other bodies making very bad choices for us. I'm not trying at all to sound like a Polyanna; sometimes life is plenty rough and often short.

Everybody dies. That's just...life. And not the best part. But if you spend your life focused solely on the end of that life what you're really doing is wasting your precious moments. So to all the doom-sayers and evangelical prophets and radio preachers who have nothing better to do that waste their time spewing hate or self-righteousness I say, please leave me alone. I'm busy.

(I found the whole-lot-of-crazy art at the top of the post — entitled "True Rapture" — at the "Questions and Thoughts" blog. You simply must click on it to see it larger. I can't even begin to guess at the cray-cray symbolism involved there.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On President Obama's Middle East Speech

(Photo: Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister and U.S. presidential advisor Benjamin Netanyahu shown in front of the Islamic Noble Sanctuary in occupied Jerusalem).

President Obama made a speech on Thursday that was billed as a major policy speech on the Middle East, touching on both the wave of "Arab Spring" revolutions and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Perhaps you missed this bit of reporting from the New York Times:

"The Israeli government immediately protested, saying that for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders would leave it “indefensible.” Mr. Netanyahu held an angry phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday before [emphasis added —ish] the speech, officials said, in which he demanded that the president’s reference to 1967 borders be cut.

Israeli officials continued to lobby the administration until right before Mr. Obama arrived at the State Department for the address. White House officials said he did not alter anything under Israeli pressure, though the president made changes in the text that delayed his appearance by 35 minutes.

Yes, you read that correctly. The White House submitted Obama's speech to Israel for approval before he delivered it and the Israeli government was making demands on what President Obama could say before he said it. And why not? United States policy is, in reality, identical to the ethnic cleansing, racist, and brutal collective punishment policies of the Apartheid state of Israel. The U.S. is Israel's major economic and political partner, and Israel knows it has carte blanche for absolutely whatever it wants to do. And furthermore by the utterly insane logic of American politics, it is widely believed that it is political suicide for politicians — and Presidents — to offend either the Israel lobby or pro-Israel Jewish voters and therefore successful American politicians must remain firmly in the pocket of Israel if they want to remain successful.

Shortly before the speech and prior to his departure to meet with Obama in Washington on Friday, Netanyahu was meeting with Israel's Interior Ministry to discuss expanding Israeli settlements near occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli settlement-building — actually ethnic cleansing and land theft illegal by international law — was not mentioned by President Obama in his speech.

Nevertheless, Obama went on his speech to suggest that the future negotiated state of Palestine be based on the 1967 borders of Israel, "with agreed-upon land swaps." This mild statement recognizing the bare minimums of accepted international law drew harsh criticism from Netanyahu who said before, during, and after his meeting with Obama on Friday, "it's not gonna happen." But the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu went great according to the Huffington Post: Benjamin Netanyahu went into the White House Friday "worried, but came out encouraged," according to a senior Israeli official briefed on the prime minister's frank meeting with President Barack Obama. Obama issued a statement, "So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion. And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue."

(Photo: Israeli arms supplier and ethnic-cleansing enabler Barack Obama speaking on the Middle East in Washington on Thursday).

So what did Obama say in his speech? He discussed the pro-democracy protests sweeping the Arab world. He did not, of course, mention the decades of support given to Arab dictators by the United States. Somewhat surprisingly Mr. Obama did criticize the crackdown by the Bahraini government against democracy protesters. (Though of course he had nothing to say about it when it was happening.) Obama notably failed to name one country in particular, and that is close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, a dictatorship and religious theocracy that actually sent in troops to Bahrain so that Bahraini security forces could do the actual dirty work of crushing the protest movement.

Speaking of religious theocracies, Mr. Obama endorsed the official Israeli line: "Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people." Which of course is great news for the soon to be ethnic-cleansed Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel proper. (Israel is now in fact requiring loyalty oaths of new immigrants to "the Jewish state.")

Obama did not mention Israeli "settlements" in the occupied territories. And he implied discussion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel and the status of Jerusalem could be left til later. He said the future Palestine would share a border with Jordan, and this is what really pissed off Netanyahu. In Netanyahu's vision the Israeli military will keep possession of the Jordan Valley, and any Palestinian microstate Bantustan will be isolated from direct borders with the outside world. But never fear, Netanyahu, because Obama said that Israel had the right to defend itself, while Palestine would be a "non-militarized state." One might suggest Obama study the historical definition of the term "state."

To my mind the worst thing Obama said about Israel and Palestine was this: "For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own." He repeats the Zionist propaganda lie that Israel is the victim of violence, and Palestinians merely the victims of symbolism. The truth, as Omar Barghouti points out below, is that Palestinians are actually, now, being ethnically cleansed. They are actually the victims of violence on a scale far beyond the (tragic and occasional) victims of terrorism.

Obama's conclusion, "That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future" seems to me particularly hollow. Because despite all the rhetoric about hope when it comes down to actual actions on the ground, the U.S. can be counted on to back the status quo, to take the side of Israel, and to hang on to the coattails of regional dictators until the last possible moment. The American government has claimed to oppose illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories for years. But when it came to a U.N. vote to condemn those settlements just this past winter, the U.S. took Israel's side and vetoed the U.N. criticism. There is no heroism, no hope, no principle, no audacity in that move. It was the same old crass complicity in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

On Nakba day, thousands of nonviolent unarmed Palestinians rushed Israel's boundaries, in the case of the Golan Heights on the border with Syria, successfully breaching the territory occupied by Israel since 1967. Israel responded by shooting dozens. It is those people, the people of the Arab Spring, who will ultimately solve this problem. The Middle East does not need another ethnic theocracy: it needs a democratic and secular state in Palestine. It can be a homeland for Jews as well as non-Jews, but it cannot be built on the basis of injustice and denial of rights to the people who live there or were forced out in the past sixty years. To coin a phrase, a two-state solution where the Palestinians are locked in a unsustainable prison at the mercy of a military machine armed by the most powerful nation on earth "just isn't gonna happen."

Independent (and secular) Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti was asked by The Real News to comment on President Obama's speech. He said that he thought it was irrelevant, and that nobody in the region but the Israelis and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was that interested in what Obama had to say on the matter. "The best thing that the U.S. can do is leave us alone." The interview with Barghouti is extraordinary, and should be required viewing. It follows below.

More at The Real News

Friday, May 20, 2011

About those "death panels"...

Turns out the Republicans were just projecting...brilliant video from The Agenda Project on the Republican budget proposals to eliminate Medicare.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19 Is Ho Chi Minh/Malcolm X Day

Today, May 19, is the birthday of two immortal heroes in the struggle against injustice, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh and our own Malcolm X. Since I quoted Malcolm back in February, here's some of Ho Chi Minh's words.

Below is an excerpt of Ho Chi Minh's most famous writing, his declaration of independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which he delivered in 1945 and spent the rest of his life defending:

"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America m 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free. The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights." Those are undeniable truths. Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty. They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united. They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots- they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion; they have practised obscurantism against our people. To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol. In the fields of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people, and devastated our land. They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolised the issuing of bank-notes and the export trade. They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty. They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers. In the autumn of 1940, when the Japanese Fascists violated Indochina's territory to establish new bases in their fight against the Allies, the French imperialists went down on their bended knees and handed over our country to them. ...

We are convinced that the Allied nations which at Tehran and San Francisco have acknowledged the principles of self-determination and equality of nations, will not refuse to acknowledge the independence of Vietnam. A people who have courageously opposed French domination for more than eighty years, a people who have fought side by side with the Allies against the Fascists during these last years, such a people must be free and independent. For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, solemnly declare to the world that Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country and in fact it is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilise all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty."
September 2, 1945

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Song for Saturday

All the videos of this song on Youtube came with commercials, so you'll have to settle for the lyrics. I'll try to hum along...can you hear me?

"Toe to toe
Dancing very close
Barely breathing
Almost comatose
Wall to wall
People hypnotised
And they're stepping lightly
Hang each night in Rapture

Back to back
Spineless movement
And a wild attack

Face to face
Sadly solitude
And it's finger popping
Twenty-four hour shopping in Rapture...

Don't move too slow, 'cause the man from Mars
Is through with cars, he's eatin' bars
Yeah, wall to wall, door to door, hall to hall
He's gonna eat 'em all
Rapture, be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer
Don't strain your brain, paint a train
You'll be singin' in the rain
I said don't stop, do punk rock

Well now you see what you wanna be
Just have your party on TV
'Cause the man from Mars won't eat up bars when the TV's on
And now he's gone back up to space
Where he won't have a hassle with the human race
And you hip-hop, and you don't stop
Just blast off, sure shot
'Cause the man from Mars stopped eatin' cars and eatin' bars
And now he only eats guitars, get up!"

—"Rapture," Blondie, 1981

That's right, the Rapture is set for Saturday, May 21! (Though I'm sure I will be seeing most of you on Sunday, May 22.) Blast off, sure shot!

(The art above is a painting entitled "Prairie Dog Rapture." I found it on a blogpost noting Bart Centre's business enterprise "Earth-Bound Pets USA." For $135, payable now in advance, Mr. Centre — an atheist — will guarantee to care for your pets if you leave them behind in the Rapture, since everyone knows the Rapture is just for people. On his own website Mr. Center notes he's had to increase his rates due to the increased demand this Spring.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Manipulation & Disinformation: A Document from a Nest of Spies

It was a very small item on the Angry Arab news service a few days ago: a link to one of the classified documents that have been obtained and published, Wikileaks-style, by the leftist Lebanese newspaper Al-Akbar. A lot of classified documents have been released lately: it's hard to wade through them with their lists of codes and bureaucratic new-speak. It's almost hard to summon up the necessary outrage as the sheer volume of information has a sort of numbing effect. But I read this document, and it's fascinating, instructive, and disturbing. It's probably not a very important document at all, as these things go. But what is clear from this document is how, beyond any far-fetched conspiracy theory, the U.S. goes about specifying talking points for government politicians and media alike in an attempt to propagandistically influence the events of the region.

It dates from 2008, and wasn't supposed to be declassified until 2018. It's from the American charge d'Affaires in Syria, Michael Corbin and was entitled "SARG PRESSURE POINTS IN CURRENT LEBANESE CRISIS." 'SARG' seems to refer to the Syrian government. It's basically a plan to fuck with Syria and by extension its alleged allies in Lebanon and get it in regional trouble by badmouthing the country and claiming it's an Iranian puppet. It goes on to recommend steps to sow regional discord. Here are a few quotes from the document:

". (C) Summary: As Washington assesses options for
pressuring Syria on its Lebanon policy, Post suggests six
possible measures for consideration. We believe Syria is
vulnerable to a PD focus on the Shia/Iran aspect of Syria's
support for Hizballah. Immediate designations of additional
Syrians under E.O. 13460 as a follow up to the Rami Makhluf
designation would send a strong signal and likely resonate
with the Syrian public. Emphasis on the Lebanon Tribunal and
acceleration of its implementation would focus Syrian regime
figures on possible exposure to prosecution and embarrassment
for the regime. We believe Syrian economic vulnerabilities
are a source of pressure, and we may be able to influence
Syria's efforts to establish better trade relations with
Iraq. Syria cares about its relationships with Turkey, the
UAE, Kuwait, and India, and we should pressure these
countries to cancel planned trips by Bashar and deliver a
strong message on Lebanon. Coordinated action with European
countries will signal continuing isolation; EU countries
publicly criticize Syria on human rights practices, and we
should seek to tie this to Lebanon by stressing some Syrian
dissidents are in jail for advocating support of the Cedar
Revolution. End Summary....

(C) While being careful to avoid crossing the line into
encouraging sectarianism, Post strongly urges more focus on
Syria's close relationship with Iran and Hizballah as Shia
focused on attacking the Arab world. We believe talking
points should emphasize IRGC's material support for
Hizballah's violent attacks on Arabs. The message that Syria
is simply doing the bidding of Shia Iran will tarnish
Bashar's image domestically and in the Arab world and
complicate his attempts to portray himself as a "Sunni" Arab

6. (C) Syria's greatest vulnerability currently is economic.
We see few levers to pressure the Syrians, since the
Europeans and others are extremely hesitant to invest now,
and Syria has no relationships with international financial
institutions (IFIs). The one area in which we might have
some influence is Syria's attempt to improve its economic
circumstances by cooperating with Iraq....Absent greater security cooperation by the SARG, a subject which has seen no progress, the GOI
[Government of Iraq] might be encouraged to deflect these Syrian overtures and even postpone the Committee meetings indefinitely. "

It's clear this so-called American diplomat Corbin was doing his best to subvert the Syrian government. How is that an appropriate job for a diplomat unless he is a spy or agent provocateur? His posting to Syria ended shortly after this set of propaganda instructions was issued...and in fact he's just been nominated to be Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, the same country who it was just revealed has hired the notorious Blackwater/Xe Corporation to build a mercenary army of expatriate Colombians and South Africans to put down any local unrest. The conspiracy theories write themselves, don't they?

It doesn't take a genius — or a paranoid loonytune — to notice that the American newsmedia took the bait offered by this disinformation campaign. The main story the news focused on until the current wave of unrest in Syria has been the alleged axis between Syria, Hizbollah and Iran. It also doesn't take a genius to see that the real story is not nearly that simple, and that the promotion of communal sectarianism by these U.S. spies, despite their disingenuous calls for restraint, is a kind of deadly provocation not unlike the short-sighted blowback-producing idiocy American foreign policy has pursued for decades. Hello Afghan Mujahedeen and Osama Bin Laden. Any news media who followed the manipulations offered by this government campaign to destabilize Syria should be considered something else altogether than reputable news organizations.

Now, three years after this memo, Syria's dictatorial regime is threatened by civil unrest. It's clear many of the demands of the protesters there are just. But one wonders what shit-stirring State Department memos have been issued by the current crop of American spies sitting in Damascus...and how many innocent lives will be lost by its meddling manipulations.

Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars at work.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

63 Years of Tears

There must have been some Israeli independence day march or rally near Times Square Friday. Because on my way to the subway in the evening I saw a small Israeli flag stuck part way up a metal signpost. I was surprised at my fury as I reached up and ripped the flag down and tossed it in a trash can there on the corner. Because while many people celebrate the anniversary of the State of Israel, many others — mostly cowed into silence in this country — mark the anniversary with grieving for a homeland stolen and occupied. May 15 is marked on Palestinian calendars as "Nakba Day," nakba being Arabic for "catastrophe," the day their homeland began to no longer be their home. The day has come to be marked with solemn affirmations of resistance to the Israeli occupation not only of the territories conquered by Israel in the 1967 war but of the whole of historic Palestine. At the time of the nakba hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians were terrorized into flight from their homes, never to return. The two videos here are testament to the spirit of resistance that lives on.

The perspective of these events from the United States is so strange and distorted. In the U.S. there is widespread disdain for the Palestinian people and their cause: indeed "Palestinian" is a word synonymous for many Americans with "terrorist." This despite the historical facts that Middle-East terrorism was birthed first by armed Zionist revolutionaries in the days when Palestine was an uncomfortable colonial compromise after the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after the first World War. It was Zionists like the Irgun who first used the weapons of assassination against authority and violence against civilians. And yet in America to even call Israel's founders "Zionists" is considered evidence of barely concealed anti-Semitism or attachment to crazed conspiracy theories.

All the propaganda arguments used to justify Israel are not made by their proponents with any standard of universality. Those who condemn Palestinian violence against civilians usually rationalize Israeli state violence against civilians. Those who question the right of Palestinians to the identity of nationhood usually delegitimize the recent history and aspirations of Palestinian Arabs in favor of Biblical mythology and its entirely debatable relationship to the Jewish diaspora of the 20th century. Those who demand respect and recognition of their entity offer no such respect and recognition in return. Those who find outrage in the Arab dictators like Saddam or Qaddafi who turn cluster bombs or WMD against "their own" people conveniently look away when it is Israel using American-made cluster bombs against its alleged "terrorist" civilian enemy in Gaza or Lebanon.

This is a political issue. The endeavor of Zionism was the last great European colonialist adventure; and Euro-American backing for the Israeli State was an ill-conceived deus-ex-machina rooted in guilt over complicity with the Holocaust and the racialism of white colonialism. In the 18th- and early 19th-century it was routine for Europeans to land on distant shores and announce that they were now in charge. It took the decades after the Second World War to undo that legacy in Africa and Asia at the cost of millions and millions of lives in dozens of wars and conflicts. And this is why the story of the last sixty years in the Middle East has been the story of chaos and violence: it is the artificial existence of the State of Israel and not the presence of Jews in the Holyland that is linked to so much regional injustice, from terrorism and resurgent fundamentalism to dictatorship and repression.

The fundamental injustice of Israel's creation has nothing to do with the Jews. There's nothing wrong with Jews — or anyone else — wanting to immigrate to the so-called Holyland just as there should be nothing wrong with mass immigration to the United States. But there is fundamental injustice in taking something away from somebody else and then lying about it and saying it was yours all along while the now dispossessed look on powerless from across barbed wire fences. There's nothing wrong with people from Brooklyn moving to historic Palestine: but there's something wrong with people from Brooklyn moving to historic Palestine then denying rights to the people already there. This is not the relatively ancient history of European genocide against America's indigenous population, this is the work of relatively recent memory. All people deserve the right to live where they choose, in peace and safety. But that's all people, equally.

Today among the best friends of Israel internationally are the right-wing fundamentalist Christians in America who see the foundation of Israel as a stepping stone in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. That is, a movement with a natural history of anti-Semitism has for complicated reason chosen to embrace the state that claims to be the home of people it once derided as "Christ killers." And therein is embodied a logic where twisted layers of symbolism mean more than object reality.

What is real is the dispossesion of a people, those who lived in the part of historic Palestine that's now Israel, and the apartheid-style subjugation of those in the so-called occupied territories. What's clear is that what exists now is not tenable. All the things Israel brags about: its professed democracy, its agricultural successes, its occasionally liberal social attitudes, these exist by the brute force of depriving others of their rights. And that is the absolute definition of injustice. It's like the idyllic gentility of white plantation life in the old American South: all those mansions and frilly dresses in America's romantic notion of its past existed because of the horror of slavery out back.

Nakba Day is a moment to recommit to a future of peace with justice. Such a thing is possible. But people have to choose it.

The bottom video is produced by the international "Return to Palestine" international march campaign. They have a website here: returntopalestine.blogspot.com. I don't have clear information on the source of the top video in Arabic with English subtitles. I found both on the extraordinary source of information on the Middle East conflict, Mondoweiss.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Libertarian Nutcase Ron Paul Gets in the Clown Car

Republican congressman and rightwing Libertarian Ron Paul has joined the pack of Republicans running for President in 2012.

"Every libertarian I've ever known has been an expert at prioritizing. They will happily sacrifice individual liberty to the free market. Remember that libertarian utopia, Chile under Pinochet? Death squads, torture chambers and mass malnutrition. That's what libertarians call freedom. If America seems to be turning into a police state it's because we're living the libertarian dream. Soon we will have eliminated all regulations except the regulation that requires us to obey all orders and feed children into the belly of Moloch." — my friend Jon, on facebook

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Craziness

Skynet aka Google's Blogger platform has been erratic and/or down for at least a day. It seems, at least temporarily, to have eaten my ever so witty post on Newt Gingrich. I call conspiracy! Anyway, Blogger seems back up, and I will resume new posts tonight and this weekend. Hopefully the Gingrich post will reappear.

Update: Gingrich post has reappeared and is thus preserved for posterity!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Gingrich 2012: Newt Will Always Love America. Unless it Gets Cancer."

The woman at left in the picture above is Jackie Battley Gingrich; she's standing next to her then-husband Newt Gingrich at some political event early in his long and glorious career. It was a storybook romance: she was his former high school teacher. Sadly, Jackie Battley Gingrich was diagnosed with cancer and in 1980, while she was in the hospital, Gingrich left her so that he could pursue his affair with his girlfriend, Marianne Ginther. Gingrich divorced her while she was in that hospital, and shortly afterwards married Miss Ginther.

Gingrich went on to become one of the stars of the Republican Party as it took control of the House of Representatives in 1994; Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House. He was one of the architects of the right-wing "Contract on America." Even though he himself was cheating on his second wife Marianne, he selflessly pursued the crucial task of prosecuting then President Clinton for his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. It soon turned out that the second Mrs. Gingrich was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, so Newt did the most noble thing he could do, he divorced her and married the young congressional aid with whom he'd been having an affair. Serial adulterer Gingrich is today a strong advocate of what he calls "traditional marriage," exercising his strong moral voice to oppose any steps toward marriage equality for gay Americans. There is no word on whether his current wife Callista has her husband watched or followed. He resigned from public office in 1998 and it's not really clear to me what he's been doing in the 17 years since. He talks a lot on Fox News, apparently, I wouldn't know. He did join the Catholic Church.

According to Wikipedia, Newt Gingrich is an avid dinosaur enthusiast. It's not clear if he believes they were walking around the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve or not, since as we all know "Biblical history is the key to understanding dinosaurs." Gingrich is an expert on colonialism in Africa, especially on the involvement of the young Barack Obama in the anti-colonial Mau Mau terrorist movement.

Today, serial adulterer Newt Gingrich formally announced his entry into the Republican race for president in the 2012 elections, joining a field of candidates unified in their belief that gay rights, not the lack of jobs or the environmental crisis are the greatest threat to America today. You can view his official campaign entry video here on Youtube, though at the end of this momentous day the video seems to have only gotten 322 views. Go Newt!

To hell, of course.

(I can't claim credit for the catchy headline, I've borrowed it from a comment I read on the 'net today. Thanks!)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Hot Sauce Paradise

This is a shelf at the Hong Kong Supermarket in Brooklyn's Sunset Park Chinatown. In that aisle are chili-based pastes, sauces, condiments and other cooking ingredients from a dozen countries. I make it point whenever I visit that market to buy a couple different ones, even though English-language specifics are quite lacking from most of the labels. I guess that makes me brave or foolish. I've found a couple I really like, especially the one in the upper right which is a very fresh-tasting sauce with a bunch of different languages on the label but one that is actually made in the U.S. The shelves rarely look the same way in two consecutive visits and I've found a couple favorites that vanished the next time I looked for them. One was a particularly tasty blend of toasted ground chili in oil that added a perfect smoky flavor to stir-fry.

Everybody's New York City is a little different. Some people love the Broadway shows and the fabulousness. Me, I like the fact that in one neighborhood you can have your choice of lunch at a Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Turkish, Mexican, Ecuadorean, Salvadorean, Dominican, or Colombian foods, and then find a grocery store to match. And how the two Polish delis came to be in the middle of all that is anybody's guess.

There's often street food to match. Mexican esquites was new to me in this neighborhood: corn kernels in broth seasoned with epazote, then served with a sprinkle of chili powder, Mexican cotija cheese (sorta like ground parmesan), a squirt of fresh lime juice and a dollop of mayonnaise. Then there's the truck with the Salvadorean pupusas, and the Ecuadorean cart with some very scary-looking cooked meat parts I have most definitely not been brave enough to try. In the morning by every subway station are women with grocery carts full of piping-hot fresh tamales and hot chocolate.

In my New York, there's not a Starbucks for miles.

Friday, May 06, 2011

"Gonna Lay Down My Sword & Shield"

In continuing our series of anti-war anthems, here's a wonderful arrangement of a good old-fashioned hymn by alterna-folk group Ollabelle. This is a live performance new to me, but it's pretty close in spirit to the version off their wonderful 2006 album "Riverside Battle Songs," which I heartily recommend. That's got another rearranged old Gospel hymn with their unique sound, "Trouble of the World." (I commented on the classic Mahalia Jackson version of that hymn almost exactly a year ago here).

But this one is, of course, "Down by the Riverside," sometimes known as "Study War No More." That's an electronic keyboard masquerading as a harmonium, but the vocal harmonies are flawless.

"Gonna lay down my burden,
Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside.
Gonna lay down my burden,
Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside.

I ain't go study war no more,
study war no more,
ain't go study war no more.
I ain't go study war no more,
study war no more,
ain't go study oh war no more.

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside..."

Sometimes those old songs get it just right. There's a slightly different performance of the song also on Youtube here.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Full Coverage of Tonight's Republican Presidential Debate!

Oh never mind who I am I kidding. Watch Faux News? Watch the first televised hate-fest of the year? No thanks! Only in America (or possibly Taliban-ruled Afghanistan) can a party run a pack of candidates who can only compete to see who of them hates gay people the most. Pardon my french, but fuck these people. Anybody who votes for these hateful lying idiots deserves what they get.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"Geronimo EKIA"

“Geronimo is arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world,” the chiefs said, “and this comparison only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our people.” — Leaders of the Onondaga Nation quoted in the Syracuse Post-Standard.

"Geronimo" was apparently the US Special Forces codeword for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the raid which ended with his assassination. Every American schoolchild knows that Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apache nation was the name of one of the last Native American leaders to engage in armed resistance to white American conquest at the end of the 19th-century. The raid in Pakistan ended with the transmission back to headquarters, "Geronimo EKIA," or Enemy Killed in Action.

Such a fascinating choice of words that says so much not only about what the military was thinking, but about the complicated legacy of America's genocidal past. Zunguzungu blog has amazing quotes about the myth-laden meaning of Geronimo, as well as a collection of links to analysis. (One of the passages quoted on Zunguzungu reminds us that George Bush's ancestors were among those who obscenely stole the real Geronimo's actual head for a fraternity trophy at Yale.) The choice of this word manages to equate the Special Forces with the "Good Guys," at least in the standard American History narrative, as well as tar Osama with an air of doom. The Onondaga leaders are quite right that it perpetuates the demonization of Native Americans in equating their history of resistance to Bin Laden's fundamentalist jihad. And it exposes the real barbarity behind the smug white American depiction of its enemies as barbarian savages.

I'm struck by the fact that the articles all over the web discussing this issue use one of the posed pictures of Geronimo that make him look armed and dangerous, showing him crouching with his rifle. These photos are pure mythology since they were taken after his surrender, when he had become a fairground attraction at a Wild West show. Of course the picture I've snagged for this post is also a posed one, showing him with his nieces some time in the early 1900s. Although these photos do show the human being inside the Geronimo myth, they're also a mirror reflecting back at American culture.

The bottom line is that America has issues.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Botanicas of New York: San Miguel & Anaisa

"I Am With You Always" says a poster of Jesus as twin figures of Santa Muerte, "Saint Death," loom above Him. San Judas — St. Jude — patron Saint of lost causes towers above them all, while a mere three-leafed not-so-lucky clover promises...something. Chinese prosperity gods, Haitian goddesses and Indian spirit guides line the shelves behind: It's multicultural cosmic order at the Botanica San Miguel & Anaisa in Brooklyn. It's all about skulls and scythes and scepters; crowns and halos.

Is that the Holy Infant — El Divino Niño — or Elegba, African God of the crossroads? Is that Our Lady of Guadelupe, patron Saint of Mexico, or the Earth Mother Tonantzin?

San Miguel & Anaisa are syncretic Saints revered in the Dominican "21 Divisiones" tradition, though my exceeding ignorance on such matters presents me from explaining what blessings they might offer. Though their storefront would look at home on any tropical street, it's the heart of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, once home to Scandinavian immigrants and now a melting pot of Latin American and Asian newcomers as well as more established communities of folks with roots in the Spanish Caribbean.

(These windows are a reflection of something I love about New York. From time to time I'll be posting pictures from the various botanicas I stumble across. This is the second in a series. These photos were taken by me in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Click on the images to see them larger.)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Repost: War Is Over If You Want It

I originally wrote and posted the following in December of 2009. In a strange week where Obama seized control of the "birther" farce, apparently at least acquiesced in an assassination attempt against Qaddafi, and announced just moments ago the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, I'm haunted once more by John Lennon and Yoko Ono's powerful challenge that we are in control of our own destiny. I shed no tears for Osama, leader of a vicious right-wing fundamentalist sect; but so much water has passed under the bridge in the nine years since the awful events of 9/11 it's hard not to factor in all the lives cruelly wasted by the American quest for vengeance. The challenge, of course, in being either a pacifist or an opponent of the death penalty, is to mean it. We can have better, if only we would so choose.

"...I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. 'And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.' I still believe that We Shall overcome!"
--The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

"I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - 'Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.' As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

"I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower."

--President Barack Obama in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize today

"War, huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

"War, it ain't nothin' but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker, oh

"Peace, love and understanding, tell me
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our own freedom
But Lord knows there's gotta be a better way"

--Edwin Starr/Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong song lyrics, 1970

I give credit to President Obama for an attempt to reconcile his respect for the civil rights tradition while trying to justify his role as commander in chief of the largest military machine the world has ever known: he presented a thoughtful argument for the idea of a just war, for well-behaved war, for nice war with rules and fairness. His speech today has provoked me to read some other speeches, and to assess what I believe. I'd certainly rather hear Obama's reasoned argument than those base and empty appeals to "freedom" a la Reagan or Bush. If I wanted to hear that war is peace or freedom is slavery I know which bookshelf to find Orwell on. Obama is a good speaker if not, here, a fiery one, and I'm glad to be pushed to affirm my own views.

I am proud that my father and his paternal line were peaceful people who ran from war, who would uplift their lives and families and give up their homes rather than serve in the military. They did this over and over again when they fled Germany in the 1700s and when they fled Russia in the early years of the last century and when my father did it before I was born in the 1950s. But I'm also proud of my father's maternal line; that my great great grandfather donned that blue uniform to defeat the racist Confederacy.

I am deeply persuaded by Dr. King's profound notion that the long and difficult path of non-violence was the way to respond to the violence of racism in such a way as to transform and transcend a social relationship not just suppress or repress it. But I am also deeply persuaded by the righteousness of generations of anti-colonial revolutionaries who were drawn to armed struggle in their path of liberation.

These are contradictions, and I think it was courageous of Obama to acknowledge that fundamental contest of justice and violence. But here's another contradiction: I think that U.S. military intervention anywhere in the world--with the debatable exception of the Second World War--is always and fundamentally wrong. And I think it was deeply disingenous of Obama to weave so slender a thread around the real story of the misery inflicted by the U.S. on so many nations and peoples around the world in pursuit of its own self-righteous agenda.

As someone living in New York City during the events of September 11, 2001, I could easily have been one of the people the Al-Qaeda hijackers were trying to kill. I think that the religious fundamentalists behind those criminal attacks needed to be brought to justice; not because they dared threaten the American way of life but because they chose to blame and kill a bunch of innocent people. In that sense I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the American destruction of the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 if it's viewed as a mission to arrest criminals.

But it is the history of the crucible of those religious fundamentalists--Afghanistan--that shows the deadly chain reaction that belief in "a just war" causes. The "Just War" of the Soviets aiding the secular Afghan revolution; the "Just War" of the Mujahedeen expelling the foreign invaders; the "Just War" of the Taliban fighting the corrupt tribal Mujahedeen militias; the "Just War" of the US against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda guests, and now, from someone else's perspective, the "Just War" of the Taliban again to expell new foreign invaders: where do these "Just Wars" end? How many regular people is it okay to kill to steer the wheels of history in a different direction?

Here's the thing. As long as people like Obama rationalize their seduction by war, all those good intentions mean nothing because in the end it comes down to parents on the wrong side of some arbitrary line on a map made to scream and weep inconsolably over the bloodied bodies of their children.

It took me many years to understand it, but John Lennon and Yoko Ono's famous Christmas Greeting is so deeply profound:

"WAR IS OVER! if you want it."

As long as the leaders of this world--both the ones in whom we've placed our aspirations for good, like Obama, and the ones we feared as pure corrupt evil, like Bush--look for the "moral justifications" in their use of bombs and tanks and drones and missiles and guns and mines and cluster bombs, then we, the regular people, will suffer. This world of violence is our choice...unless we stop wanting it; unless we're brave enough to listen to the likes of Dr. King without adding that terrible soul-corrupting word "but."

I'd like to choose peace.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May Day 2011

"Proletarians of All Countries, Unite! First of May, the Holiday of the Victory of Labor" reads this card from the early days of the Soviet Union in Russian and, I think, Turkish. It's really a shame that seventy years of Stalinism masquerading as socialism ruined the language of socialism, because even though words like that cause most people's eyes to blink and glaze over, it's really an admirable sentiment.

The point of May Day, the real labor day holiday, set to the date that was in Europe once reserved for a joyous spring holiday, was for regular people to celebrate their connections to other regular people across the borders of states and nations. The theory was that kings and princes and big businesses divided the world into countries jealously trying to get what the others have, pitting the working people of one country against the working people of another, usually in the end benefitting only the rulers and the war profiteers. But working people in all countries have more in common with each other than they do the parasites at the top of society, so why not put down the national colors and extend the hand of friendship, unity and equality? Socialist internationalism is really that simple. People just want to live their lives in peace. That would be a whole lot easier if the governments and politicians of the world were made to stop trying to control the population and made, to coin a phrase, to serve the people. That's what rational government is for: not to protect the profits of rich people.

The propaganda ideologues of capitalism have tried hard to turn words like "labor," or "workers" into scary-sounding special interests. But that's because there are more of us than there are of them. It's only by believing in their ideological prison that we give them power over us. It's the American dream, right? One day even you or I could be as rich as...Donald Trump? Or one day you or I could be eating catfood out of a garbage can too. It's a fucked up system that benefits the people at the top at the expense of the people at the bottom by design.

We, the American people, are not the ones bombing and invading countries. That would be They the government, doing so not in our interests but the interests of big business and their rules, their needs. We should be extending our hands in friendship with the sisters and brothers — just like us! — who just want to celebrate life.