Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Competing Legitimate Leadership

I've written here and elsewhere about the absolute necessity for a competing, moral, legitimate authority to emerge to contend against the whole direction that the U.S. government and U.S. economy have been hurtling down. I’ve argued that this is the most important factor holding a movement back. Some further elaboration on why it's so crucial and who that leadership is:

Why It's So Crucial

The unanimity of the political establishment and the corporate media around the Bush agenda - invading countries that have not attacked and do not threaten us, torture and rendition as policy, nullifying international law and long-standing core principles such as Nuremberg, the Geneva Conventions and habeas corpus, unfettered executive power, warrantless spying on us all, and on and on - has left millions of Americans gasping in astonishment. How can it have gotten so bad, so fast, and why hasn't someone stopped them?

It has also left a majority of Americans grasping at straws of hope that despite all evidence to the contrary, the Democratic Party will deliver us from evil - just keep voting for them. This, we’re told, we should do even though the Democrats allowed the presidency that they won in 2000 and 2004 to be stolen from them. And even though the Democrats have done none of the things that the electorate - in a massive rejection of the GOP - elected them to do in 2006: end the war and hold Bush and Cheney accountable.

How long will we continue to do what has proven over and over to be useless and a cruel deception? How long will we be misled by the Democratic Party leadership who tell us in effect that torture, war crimes and yet another war this time on Iran should be allowed to continue in the name of "getting a Democrat in the White House?!" What kind of immoral logic is this: over a million Iraqi dead and counting, and thousands of American soldiers dead and counting, innocent people being rounded up and detained, innocent people being tortured and murdered every single day, with more blood staining these war criminals' hands and dripping from their lying mouths every single day, in a war based on lies? We should do this, let me get this straight, so that instead of a Republican war criminal president in the White House, a Democratic war criminal can take his place? Make no mistake: those who refuse to fight against tyranny and crimes against humanity are co-conspirators and colluders themselves.

What have these same Democrats who have been controlling the Congress since January 2007 done with their majority? What have the leading Democratic candidates for president offered us? Have they restored habeas corpus? Have they ended the war? Have they promised to bring the troops home before the end of their first term in the White House? Have they called out the threats against Iran as a repeat of the lies that took us into the war on Iraq? Have they moved to abrogate the Military Commissions Act and the Warner Act? Have they prevented another torturer from becoming the new Attorney General of the U.S.? When the Democrats had the chance in Congress in September 2006 to filibuster and thereby block passage of the Military Commissions Act that legalized torture they demurred. They let the barbaric law pass, making the U.S. the only modern state to ever have the gall to legalize torture as policy.

When the Democrats got back the majority in Congress and Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House and Harry Reid Majority Senate Leader, they could have defunded the war and blocked any measures they didn't like from even coming out of committee and coming up for a vote. They refused. They could have and should have immediately commenced hearings on impeachment. They refused. When Rep. DeFazio, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, learned that the White House was issuing secret rules about "continuity of government" in NSPD-15, (rules that include no one in Congress or the Judiciary in the continuance of the federal government in a "public emergency") and he asked the White House if he could see the rules the White House said no. No, even you who sit on the Homeland Security Committee can't see what we've planned. You can't even see it if you see it "in bubble" (a way for a congressperson to view confidential material).

Like the stage magician who distracts you, the Democratic Party is telling the American people: don't look at what my right hand is doing, look over here at my left hand where I'm offering you a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. See, you can have a woman or a black or a guy who spends $400 on his haircuts. The Democrats are saying to us: "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Who Is This Alternative Leadership? The Two Elements

In the face of this abdication of moral leadership, an alternative leadership must be developed that can swing people in the tens of millions away from the current leadership and down an entirely different path to a place where truth, facts, justice, science and morality matter. Our rulers’ collusion means that they are extremely vulnerable to being exposed for their utter immorality and inhumanity. But unless and until that new leadership is constituted, the relative passivity of the people will persist. For people cannot move without leadership. Sentiment against this Bush agenda could encompass 90% of the people, but without leadership to focus and guide that sentiment, the people will accept the status quo, no matter how awful it becomes. If this new, alternative leadership doesn’t come into being and exert wide influence, our rulers will get away with their ugly gambit and consolidate some version of a police state.

What will it take for such a competing leadership to emerge? It's going to take a tremendous effort that is unprecedented in nature - but very possible. It's unprecedented because it won't be enough to get millions of people into the streets in demonstrations - rallies and marches and so on. And it's unprecedented because the role that millions must play politically in their everyday lives is greater than they have ever played. But this is something that can be done.

The vacuum in moral leadership means that people in everyday life have to step forward and become a part of a new leadership - they need to make up the social base for that competing leadership. This is the first element. For a strong enough opposite pole in society to emerge that exerts a strong enough pull on people and events to actually challenge and ultimately triumph over the forces in charge now, there must be a large enough social base that steps forward into the bright daylight and declares itself on the side of morality and humanity. This mass movement would create the requisite social base for a competing alternative leadership to emerge - the second element - that would be the leadership of this mass movement. It would give this alternative leadership the political oxygen to breathe in and protect this leadership from being destroyed by our rulers.

The core of this alternative national and local leadership is present and will grow, but the social base for that leadership needs to come to the fore and become a palpable, material force. This is necessary because the customary forms of political and opinion leadership at the top - with precious few individual exceptions (a few journalists, for example) - are all colluding with the Bush regime. So an alternative path to changing the overall direction of society must be adopted.

To put this strategy most directly: if millions declare themselves publicly in their everyday lives through displaying orange, then the social base for a competing, mass movement leadership will become a substantial, visible and engaged force on the scene. What has been latent and unexpressed in public ways will then be manifest and explicit. It's difficult to say how many exactly are needed for the tide to shift, but at least three million, or 1% of the American population, displaying orange daily are a likely critical mass. This visible force will in turn probably trigger a wave of support from those who've been sitting on the sidelines. The Bush regime and its apologists will stand naked for both their tremendous unpopularity and for their brutal parasitism and moral monstrousness. The passivity of the people that this government needs in order to accomplish their ugly plans will have been shredded. It is impossible to imagine such a scenario of millions displaying orange without accompanying this many, many other forms of political struggle and resistance. The two forms of resistance - displaying orange daily and various acts of political protest on a small and grand scale - will reinforce each other. A competing national leadership of this mass movement against the government and its apologists will then have its "army" of politically engaged people to call upon, speak to and speak as the leading exponents of and for. (I use the term "army" here metaphorically as this mass movement will not be a military force. It will, however, be a determined and mass political movement.)

The traditional means of expressing political sentiment in a mass way is through rallies and marches. But there is no reason why this conventional and traditional means has to encompass the full spectrum of ways in which millions can show their political sentiments. A majority wants Bush and Cheney gone, wants the war to end, does not support torture and war crimes, was shocked at what Bush and Cheney did during and after Katrina, and recoils from the sight of nooses. Tens of millions within this majority are aching to do something that will make a difference. They want Bush and Cheney on the dock at the Hague on trial for crimes against humanity. The reason why this mass sentiment against Bush and Cheney hasn’t materialized in quite a while in the form of traditional demonstrations is because many people have tried demonstrating – there were millions demonstrating against the Iraq war a few years ago - and other means such as voting and most are discouraged and demoralized by the absence of any standard bearers of sufficient weight to carry forward the fight and disoriented by the fact that the Bush and Cheney seem to be able to get away with murder and nothing’s done. (See here and here for an elaboration on this matter.)

A Simple, Yet Profound Act

The means for people to act is here, however, in the form of the extraordinarily simple yet profound act of putting on an orange ribbon, armband, headband, wrist band, boa, etc. and wearing it everywhere you go. This is such a simple act that some people think it’s not enough. They think, what can this simple act do? Wearing orange daily is not all that people can or should do - people should also find other ways to speak up and declare themselves, including through traditional modes of political protest, but it is critical that millions do do this simple but profound act because it is a way for the people in our majority to create a different political atmosphere on the level of everyday life. Everyday life is an arena that we have control over in that we circulate throughout our daily lives one and all. All of us are seen by at least scores of other people everyday. Individuals wearing orange is an act that doesn't require mass media attention. It doesn't require getting anyone's approval and the political establishment cannot stop it. Fox News, the GOP, the Democratic Party and the FBI can't prevent you from doing this. None of them can stop us in our millions from doing this simple but profound daily act.

This strategy is unique because it takes advantage of the fact that a large majority are deeply disturbed by our society's direction and they want something else. That sentiment isn’t, however, being expressed in ways that will change the political landscape because the necessary national level leadership isn't present in the normal places: the leading political parties and the mass media. The widespread sentiment against our government's moves has, therefore, been lying dormant. Never in our history have the leading institutions of our society been so at odds with where the vast majority of people are and want to be. This gap, that keeps widening by the day, means that the basis has never been stronger - and the need never greater - for the people to express their dissent, assert their views and act independently of the existing institutions.

Many activists and broad sections of the people have been scratching their heads or gnashing their teeth wondering why this mass sentiment isn’t being displayed through mass rallies and marches. Declare It Now: Wear Orange and the 333 Plan/Network are a vehicle that builds upon this specific alignment of forces and will allow it to find material expression. It's based on a strategy of carving out a space in everyday life for the resistance to be expressed, take root, be nurtured and spread. It's an innovative strategy that reflects the unusual alignment of forces we confront today.

People need to take personal responsibility for a different path to be forged and taken. People in the millions need to show themselves, break out of the paralysis of private grumbling and personal agonizing and act publicly. Do it and you'll feel better, as will the vast majority of people around you. Passivity and the notion that all you have to do to be political is to decide which candidate you're going to endorse and vote for have to be discarded. We are the people we've been waiting for. It's literally up to the people now because the people you might have been hoping and expecting will do it – political leaders, institutions and the mass media - are demonstrating everyday that they will not do it.

You have to stand up and be counted and display your sentiments in your everyday life and among the people you see and who see you everyday. The nature of day-to-day life all over this country in all walks of life needs to be altered.

The basis is richly there right now. And it won't take that long if we set about to do it.

The tremendous unpopularity of the Bush Regime is a major, largely untapped, strategic factor in our favor. A way for these millions to act right now exists. Declare it now: wear orange! And as each individual who hears this message (or sees someone else wearing orange) takes up this challenge, the thousands who are today doing this can become tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions, in a couple of months. Look at what one person can do and has done in these three examples:

"On November 16 [a high school student at Mother McCauley school in Chicago] went around with an orange roll of glow tape and handed it out to people. Many students wore it all day, some wrote "No attack on Iran" on them, and some even wore them on their foreheads! ... [T]his same woman has raised over 150 dollars for the legal defense of the students arrested at the October 27th demonstration, simply by going around with a bucket, telling their story, making announcements in her classes, and being consistent with students. When students don't want to donate, she asks them why, thinks about their questions, and then goes back to them the next day." (Some pictures of the results of this one high school student's efforts are at the start of this essay.)

Another example:

"An organizer from LA decided to make a solo statement and caused quite a fashion stir at the annual Los Angeles Sunset Junction Street Fair Sunday afternoon. Clad in an outfit constructed entirely out of DIN Orange Drive Out the Bush Regime bandanas, she made the scene at this Silverlake community event, known for its good time flavored family fun, and a tradition of colorful and unusually costumed revelers. Silverlake is a neighborhood of artists, performers, musicians and home to a significant Gay and Lesbian community. This is a popular and very well attended event each year in Los Angeles.

She approached the ticket gate, and the workers were so taken by her outfit and the DIN bandanas, that they agreed to flyer every entrant that afternoon while sporting their new bandanas. She managed to inspire all gatekeepers at the event to do this, and got out stacks and stacks of DIN flyers this way.

Inside, she had lots of freedom to flyer and talk to folks about the Wear Orange campaign, as well as she attracted admirers and photographers. A crew from the show 'Touts Le Habits du Monde,' a television show on the Arte and Culture Channel in France, asked if they could film her for their show. She agreed. She was asked to spin her fabulous skirt, and fan out the bandanas so that the message could be easily read. 'DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME! WWW.WORLDCANTWAIT.ORG' They interviewed her about the WCW and the Wear Orange national campaign to Drive Out the Bush Regime. They plan to feature her on a show dedicated to political fashion.

We decided to do this on the spur of the moment because we didn’t have a crew to go out to this event, and we knew we needed to get the word out somehow, so we decided to make a 'fashion scene.' And a scene it was. The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! Declare it Now! Wear Orange!"

And here's another example:

"Tuesday night my friends and I sat down and made about 300 orange ribbons to give away for students to wear for this coming Friday's demonstration. Inclusive this morning in my GRE Prep class I ran into a young woman who was wearing the ribbon, it was so very exciting to see someone outside, wearing it in support of this movement. Wednesday morning, around 10 am or so I set up a small display table. I draped the small table with orange fabric and set my flyers, ribbons, pledges and posters that I painted of your latest WCW poster (the fist w/ the orange band) and nervously waited for students to come up to the table. Honestly it was one of the most frightening things I've done in a long time. I was praying for a familiar face, but I just dove in and started asking students as they walked by if they wanted to pick up a ribbon to support our anti-war movement, at first many of them just kept walking and said no thanks (a little discouraging...). However, as more students began to come out of class I was able to grab the attention of a few who came up to the table and wanted to know what the orange and the ribbons were all about, since it was only myself at the table I didn't have much of a chance to explain everything in great detail when I got several people coming up.

I did, however, hand them out your flier with the Call, and a smaller flier that talked about the demonstration of orange this coming Friday. I was so pleased to see many people taking the ribbons and putting them on their backpacks and on their shirts. As time passed and more students came out, I begin to get people to pledge to get three other people to wear the orange ribbons. I got about 10 pledges from people who said that they had friends that would wear the ribbon in support. I remember this one guy who came back and asked me if he could have one for his girlfriend :) It was great! I had a young lady who mentioned that she was part of the WCW and she took 10 ribbons with her and assured me she had many people that would definitely wear it.

Another young woman from the CGU [Claremont Graduate University] mentioned that 'people in this generation haven't had their "1960s" yet and need to' and that she would try to spread this out in Claremont... Another gentlemen mentioned he had friends that would wear the ribbons too and that he was interested in how this turned out. My most memorable one was the professor that took a ribbon and thanked me for doing what I was doing :) Another professor said that he wanted to see us in front of the school picketing just like they did in the 60's.

Overall, even though my palms were clammy and I was nervous each time I spoke to someone it was very rewarding and I think I passed out about 150 ribbons, if not more, out [over the course of an hour and three-quarters], especially to classmates and even to a gentlemen at an Empire conference. I might try this again this coming Wednesday if time permits but I'll definitely keep passing out the ribbons to as many people as I can :)

I guess this brief little summary turned out longer than I expected. I guess I just got excited thinking about what happened that day." [The first photo above depicts some of those who came out the second time to do likewise after this woman did it solo the first time at Cal Poly.]

* * *

Note that in all three of these examples, these wonderful breakthroughs that triggered the actions and participation of scores of others were carried out by single individuals.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Can Wearing Orange Do?

When you wear orange daily - and get others to do the same - you are:

showing your solidarity with the victims being tortured by our government at Guantanamo and elsewhere;

taking a public stand against illegal, immoral, unjust wars for empire;

refusing to allow nooses and clothes hangers to be the icons of our time;

adopting the high road against the moral monsters in charge and calling on others to do the same;

acting as a political representative of a new order;

donning an orange badge of courage;

organizing in your day-to-day life;

implementing a unique form of everyday political resistance;

rupturing with merely private grumbling and taking action;

making visible the invisible sentiment against this regime;

fostering an atmosphere in which allies can readily identify each other in the crowd and unite to resist in many other ways together;

refusing to be a "good German;"

provoking others to decide whether they will continue to remain silent or not;

putting the reactionaries who stand with Bush and Cheney on the defensive;

manifesting what you stand against and what you stand for;

expressing your fierce hope and determination for a world worth living in and a future worth living for.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Organizers of Actions or Organizers of People? Part 2

[The first part of this essay was posted on November 21, 2008 here.]

You might be thinking: but of course I’m an organizer of the people! I do this all the time in my work: encouraging people to participate in demonstrations, to wear orange and to give money! Indeed and that is great. But what is called for by our situation is something more than trying – and even succeeding – in getting a lot of people “into the streets.”

We are in the U.S., a country where political naiveté is stronger than anywhere else and where an abiding faith in the “representative” institutions of “democracy” remain strong and, more to the point, we’re in the biggest and strongest imperialist superpower ever in world history. What is it going to take to create a popular upheaval in such a country? The broad sections of the people and in particular the tens of millions of people who hunger for a world that is fair and just and who can’t accept this new gilded age that rests on extremes in wealth and poverty and on torture need a leadership that they can follow and that they can be part of. We need more organizers of people and we need to be the leaders of that process in which we bring forward other organizers of people.

The abdication of moral leadership by nearly the entire political leadership and media means that charting another path than the one we’re on requires that we create a competing, and ultimately victorious, alternative leadership. This is no small feat. It’s an enormous, world-historic task. Are we up to it? Can it be done? Some elements of the former leadership can be united with – there are people like Daniel Ellsberg, Ray McGovern, Col. Ann Wright, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Paul Craig Roberts, Ron Suskind, Frank Rich, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and so on – who represent varying political tendencies but who have all publicly called for impeachment and/or who despise Bush and Cheney. There are revolutionaries; there are liberals (among the people) and there are even conservatives who once voted for and even were major donors to Bush/Cheney who are disillusioned with them and now oppose them. The anti-fascist alignment is substantial and again, there is a solid core of tens of millions who passionately oppose the Bush agenda. Even if we didn’t have the majority with us in terms of their sympathies, we would have these tens of millions, which would be more than enough to do what must be done. How do we mobilize people in a way that will make a difference?

Certain sectors of the populace are key in this in unleashing larger sections of the people: youth, oppressed minorities, soldiers (both active-duty and veterans) and people in the cultural and intellectual arenas. All of these people have one thing in common: they have great credibility, for varying reasons. Youth are the inheritors of the planet, they are the new/next generation, they have more relative freedom than adults/older folks to engage in political actions, and they to a substantial extent (because they are youth) look at the world from the perspective of a greater willingness to entertain the notion of a radically different world. No revolutionary movements, no movements that have changed the face of society, have been able to do so without the catalyzing role of youth and students. Soldiers, because they have “been there,” have enormous credibility. Soldiers who come forward to expose the war crimes being done by our forces at the behest of our government provide extremely powerful testimony about the reality of this monstrous government. Oppressed minorities (e.g., those stirred into motion because of the outrages in Jena) have historically and are today in a particularly powerful position to speak truth about power and to power. And cultural and intellectual leaders are by definition models and highly influential elements.

The 333 Network - Into the People’s Hands

The 333 Network (of the Declare It Now: Wear Orange Campaign) provides a means by which we can achieve our goal of millions demonstrating – in their everyday lives - in a couple of months or so. 333’s underlying logic rests on the fact that there is a wide and deep well of latent support for mass resistance politics out there. Take a look at and read or re-read the World Can’t Wait’s Call. People who previously discounted it and thought it was alarmist (“Are you serious? You’re comparing Bush and Cheney to the Nazis?!”) are coming around and recognizing how prescient it was.

But you can’t just have a correct analysis of adversaries. You also have to have a plan for making this analysis take root and become a living expression among the people. 333 immediately places into the hands of the people the responsibility for making this campaign a success. It utilizes the pre-existing and living networks that people already occupy and it gives people a way to bind themselves more closely together with each other politically and builds a scaffolding for the movement. It gives people something concrete, hope inspiring, and very important to do beginning NOW.

333’s math is very simple. One person recruits at least three others to Declare It Now and Wear Orange who each do the same. One person can thus start a chain that will bring into political organizing nearly 20,000 people in two months. 100 people can start a pyramid that brings in 1.9 million over the same period.

What has been our experience when we take Declare It Now out to people? It doesn’t take long - if we in fact tell them even in a very few words what DIN: Wear Orange is all about - before we find that a lot of people are glad to see that there’s a way for them to show their open opposition to the regime. This isn’t overall a hard sell if we actually get into the content of what DIN is (it’s not a color accessory!) and what the basis is for it to blossom on the persons of millions of people. But it is hard to see how the chains that 333 starts from will persist.

This is where the matter of the competing, legitimate leadership comes in. What we’ve got going for us is that our adversaries are doing deeply, profoundly immoral things. They are also expressly violating key props of the historic social compact of the U.S. and ushering in some version of fascist rule. (I say some version because fascism doesn’t require jackbooted SS storm troopers marching down the street.) This is creating deep and wide fissures in the society. As Naomi Wolf points out, there is a wide sense of alarm among Americans as they watch with horror the creeping fascist atmosphere. I’ve spoken to this too in my short essay “What Time Is It?” People are feeling paralyzed and casting about trying to figure a way out of this hell they see unfolding. We have an answer to these people’s agonized questions. We have to bring this answer to them. It must be popularized through many different venues. It must be adopted by growing numbers of people and this process needs to pick up the pace – a lot!

A crucial component that is missing from this scene is the visible expression in everyday life of a moral presence in opposition to this regime. Our adversaries have a soft underbelly because what they are doing is so terrible and barbaric. They are banking on being able to get away with it and succeed in putting into place a new regime of widespread fear and terror on the home front through their control over the summits of mass media and institutional political leadership with the active assistance of the radical rightwing, theocratic fascists. DIN/333 are designed to take our strength – the majority sentiment and the fact that we have facts, truth, science, morality and justice on our side – and in particular the deep reservoir of intense support for resistance among the millions and tens of millions who hate all of this – and give it manifest expression, thereby turning it into a material force.

What Do Organizers of the People Do? (1 + 1 + 1 or 3 x 3 x 3?)

We rely on the people to act, they are our foundation, they are our hope, but we can’t expect them to come forward and be leaders to the varying degrees that are necessary spontaneously. This is the magical thinking I was referring to: the belief that calling actions will draw people to us and the movement will grow huge one of these days. We have to recognize and act on what the key political obstacles are in people’s way and address these questions sharply and creatively and relentlessly. We address these things in our agitation – in spoken and written words and in our artwork. And we have to have confidence in the people that this will pay off.

Doing a great analysis of what our adversaries are doing and then making a general call at the end that we need a mass, determined, opposition to it, then crossing our fingers (I exaggerate of course) in hopes that that mass movement will emerge through our publicity is missing the key ingredient of paying the necessary attention to the fact that we’re in America and we can’t expect a mass mobilization to materialize without having a powerful plan that we work to make it happen. A general call isn’t enough. There has to be a bridge to that place. We can’t just leap the canyon or the river. We need to build a bridge. We need to figure out the various contradictions that we face and that our adversaries face and develop the means to build upon our strengths, concentrate our strengths, minimize our weaknesses and pit our strengths against their weaknesses until the other side buckles.

DIN and 333 are the bridge. And of these two, if I can put it that way, 333 is the key. DIN and 333 give the millions that we need to step forward a means to do so. We don’t control the citadels of power and opinion making. The other side does. We have to rely on the people in their everyday lives to be the conveyors of the new order, the moral beacons and the political organizers on the day-to-day level. They have to be our daily media of opposition on the ground. They have to electrify the nature of everyday life. They have to bring to life the latent fact that we are the majority and we are the ones taking the moral high road.

What are the political obstacles standing in our way? The one of greatest importance to us internally is that we have to break with the view that spontaneity and action-organizing will get us where we need to go. (Spontaneity in this context means the belief that people will become politically active on their own and that organizers don't need to do that much to hasten this process along. Spontaneity among the people is being expressed in two major ways: "Bush and Cheney will be gone in fourteen months. We just have to wait it out until then." "I'll vote for a Democrat. Which one shall I choose?" Both of these views are terribly mistaken. Both amount to Americans being "good Germans" and complicit in the execution of monstrous daily crimes by our government. But spontaneously people don't see this. Activists who point out to people and struggle with them over these questions - the fact that Bush and Cheney are torturing people everyday and carrying out horrid deeds - have discovered that a sizable number of people will say in response: "I never thought of it that way." And they will then be willing to wear orange and open to becoming a 333 organizer, because their spontaneous understanding has been raised to a higher level. This kind of organizing has created more favorable conditions.)

We have to see that sharp political work that calls on people insistently, creatively and powerfully to step forward – and that is grounded in a rock-solid conviction that they can and will step forward to give money, to give their time, to spread orange, build 333 networks, and to make sacrifices - is what we need to mainly be doing. If we don’t do this, if we half step these appeals to people we are implicitly conveying to them the message that this situation isn’t all that serious and we aren’t all that serious. Breaking with an old paradigm isn’t easy because by definition a paradigm is something we take for granted, implement automatically, and don’t think about consciously. It’s going to take work to root out and uncover the old and struggle to replace it with the new.

Our adversaries are getting away with spectacularly outrageous lies and conduct. The media are, aside from some grumbling here and there and with a handful of brave journalists here and there, playing a crucial role legitimating these lies. We have no choice but to find an alternative way into the castle than frontal assaults. The secret lies in our mobilizing people on the ground in their everyday lives. When scientists try to carry out a massive computational project they have occasionally done so by enlisting the help of hundreds of individuals in their homes with their PCs. Collectively they have been able to pull together their aggregate computing power to accomplish the job. We’re talking about doing a similar thing with 333. 333 parties and DIN fundraisers are some ways that this kind of new paradigm organizing can proceed as “think tanks” of the future being plotted and created. The center of gravity of our outreach and follow-up work has to have 333 at its heart. This is not because 333 is the “latest thing we’re doing.” It’s because 333 rests upon a view of how political organizing must go that calls for the people to step forward and “take charge” and become what they envision.

Flyers and CDs are great, but books can’t be replaced. Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney needs to be utilized and promoted in a big way on websites, at every table people do, in every decent conversation we have with people and at every event we go to. The book does a terrific and comprehensive job of exposé, shows how this is a whole agenda we’re facing, shows and analyzes why the Democrats and corporate media are colluding, and points the way forward to the necessity for a mass movement. People need adequate political nutrition to sustain their activity. This book was written expressly to be a political weapon in this struggle. It should be used widely and popularized. Reading circles should be organized around it. These circles, where they have been created, have sustained people as organizers. If we’re going to reverse and repudiate the direction this country’s been moving in for more than thirty years, people need to deeply understand what is going on and why.

Demonstrations have a vital role to play in social change. But we need to think more creatively about what it means to demonstrate and think beyond the traditional activities of marches and rallies. As we gather the strength necessary to take on this regime and turn this battle into a truly two-sided one, then truly massive demonstrations in the conventional way of millions in the streets with banners and signs and noisemakers and a mission to accomplish will once again be possible and made real.

The strategy I'm arguing for isn't principally, oddly enough, that people wear orange. Wearing orange is the concrete and necessary manifestation of the political stand that people are taking, but wearing orange daily isn't the heart of it. The political stand is the heart of it.

333 isn't meant as a full substitute for mass demonstrations and other actions. Traditional political actions will continue to happen and will continue to have relevance. What I'm arguing for though is that we look at what we have to do and what we're facing with different eyes and approach it dramatically differently.

The strategy I'm advocating involves politically organizing the people around NETWORKS that orange is the marker and symbol of. These networks can be built through different means - including, through one to one meetings between people (people recruiting people who take up 333); through the course of mass actions; through fundraising parties; through reading circles; through phone banking...

It means a reallocation of our energy to emphasize these network building activities vs. emphasizing actions. There's a paradigm shift that is involved and necessary. Youth I think will see (and we have empirical experience to back this up) that wearing orange is cool; that they are networking with it; that they are recruiting people with it as they go about wearing it and people ask them what's that ribbon/armband for; they are also getting into political struggle with people who disagree with them for wearing orange; and that it is another way, not a substitute, but another, powerful way to take a political stand against the Bush Regime and it will encourage and is encouraging people to do other things in addition such as marches etc. (See, for example, what happened at this Chicago high school on 11/16, top two pictures above: “Mother McCauley, an all-girls Catholic high school on the south side, was full of orange-taped students and teachers on Friday. Students wrote messages like 'no war on Iran' on the orange tape and wore it all day long on their clothes, foreheads, bags, and bodies...")

In the near term, along with the 333 network building, actions that don’t require a lot of people to do – and don’t rest upon having lots and lots of people to be effective – need to take place. In fact, actions that can have wide repercussions can even be done by single individuals. For example, see the pictures at the beginning of this essay. (For details on these actions, see here and here.)

A kind of synergy of a) unconventional modes of political expression and b) smaller political exposé actions that are very focused and sharp (and that feed on each other) are what I think are both called for and possible. The main form of the unconventional modes of political expression ("a") I continue to think is DIN and 333. The smaller quick and sharp actions ("b") could take a number of different forms. Their underlying political and ideological rationale should revolve around the contradiction that AG's video makes clear (in the name of national security, these monstrous deeds are being committed...). They should explicitly be showing the contrast between the moral high road and the despicably horrible immoral things being done by our government - e.g., big photos on posters of the victims of our torture and bombings. The waterboarding demonstrations/actions received a lot of media and public attention and are examples of these "b" type actions. They should be creative, pointed and dramatic. The reality of what's being done by the Bush Regime needs to be made more real and in people's faces.

People regularly point out that unlike the Vietnam Era, no draft exists today and that a draft would escalate the protests. People also have pointed out that the victims of our government’s war crimes are far away for the most part. While these observations are true, they miss the point that if the American people were seeing more of what’s going on in their names – seeing it on their nightly news on some regular basis, or reading about it in books like Impeach the President – it doesn’t matter that much that these are foreigners who are being brutalized and murdered. Most Americans do not think of themselves as doing horrid things to others and millions would be revolted by the thought if it was in their faces more. Consider, for instance, this statement from a UC Berkeley student: “I was aware of it [torture] on a purely intellectual level but actually seeing it in person is a whole different thing. It’s one thing to know its torture and say that’s really bad, that really sucks. But to see somebody screaming and coughing and choking in front of you, it’s a very emotional experience. I went to a few rallies and things like that before the Iraq War, but then after the war launched I kind of stopped. Which is bad but I plan to go on to the protest on Friday. After seeing that I can’t really justify staying at home on Friday.”

We need to pierce the political paralysis. To do so requires that braver, more determined people step up and act (as in the "b" actions) and as the students at Morton High did recently and what these students at Cocoa Beach, Florida have been doing. It also requires that people very broadly throughout the society - in the millions - become moral witnesses and political organizers in their day-to-day lives by wearing orange.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Organizers of Actions or Organizers of People? Part I

There’s an adage in warfare that generals tend to fight the last war. The tactics and strategy that worked (or would have worked) the last time, they apply this time. The problem, of course, is that warfare changes. As do political situations. Our situation today differs substantially from the last time a mass movement ended the Vietnam War. In fact, our situation even differs from that of only four years ago when millions marched to try to prevent the Iraq War.

The basic strategy the movement is operating on is to call for demonstrations and to try to get as many people to come to these demonstrations as possible. The success of this strategy depends upon favorable (or at least decent) media attention to spread the movement and upon millions of people coming to the demonstrations through some combination of activists’ low-tech publicity methods and mass media coverage. The hope is that demonstrations will grow large enough and somewhere along the line public officials and mass media will be forced to respond – at the approximate point where publicly displayed public sentiment threatens to destabilize the system as a whole – by granting concessions to the mass struggle: end a war, force a president out of office, and so on. An implicit assumption of this strategy is that activists’ main role is to spread the word through such means as flyers and posters and the masses of people will respond to this form of organizing.

This strategy appeared to work during the 1960s. In actual fact, however, the dynamics of the 1960s were more complex than what the U.S. activists did and the movement strategy was actually part of a larger dynamic which had a definite international dimension to it, including the fact that the Vietnamese people were waging a heroic fight and eventually turned the tide and won the war and the fact that there was a high tide of struggle internationally against imperialism. What U.S. activists did was indispensable, but it wasn’t the only factor in play. Some of us were around in the 1960s and we remember this and we are trying to make the 60s happen once again. Except that so far it hasn’t happened. (It did reprise in important ways before the 2003 Iraq invasion: millions demonstrated against that war. But things have changed even since then.) And it’s getting awfully late.

There are not millions in the streets. There are not even hundreds of thousands. The numbers have dwindled to the tens of thousands despite the increasingly obvious steps towards yet a third war, this time on Iran, despite the increasingly obvious debacles that the first two wars have become, and despite the monstrous violations of law, of Constitutional guarantees, and of human rights, that the Bush Regime and its enablers have been increasingly openly committing.

There are really two questions that can be posed from the preceding: 1) Why has the level of resistance and outrage not found a larger expression? 2) Is it enough, given what we face in the Bush agenda, even if we were being successful in mobilizing much larger demonstrations? Would even this be enough to do what must be done?

First question first: why aren’t more people demonstrating against this regime?

The relatively low level of overt political resistance isn’t because there isn’t widespread sentiment against the Bush Regime. There are literally tens of millions who are utterly furious at the Bush agenda and at its purveyors and enablers. (Were the Bush cabal not being shielded by the political/media establishment, they would be the objects of widespread scorn and outrage, labeled as war criminals and torturers, anti-rationalist extremists and freaks, and would likely need to flee for their lives from this country and seek refuge in some non-extraditable country.) Bush and Cheney do have, it should be pointed out, a social base; roughly 20 percent or so of the population still support them. Within this quintile exists a hard-core of people who would welcome fascist rule with or without a Christian patina. They don’t appreciate dissent and would prefer authoritarianism and simple answers to questions. Most of these people would gladly trade the Bill of Rights for the phantasm of “security” - as long as they could keep their precious 2nd Amendment!

The tens of millions who make up a hard core of support for driving Bush and Cheney from office and repudiating what they stand for are in turn part of a large majority of approximately 70% of the American people – around 210 million - who want the war on Iraq to end, and who disapprove of Bush and Cheney. A majority in this country wants to see Bush and Cheney gone already.

What is holding back these tens of millions from acting in overt ways and representing through their manifest actions the large majority in this country? Why aren’t there hundreds of thousands, let alone, millions demonstrating?

The short answer to this question is that the unanimity of the political establishment and that of the corporate media against holding Bush and Cheney accountable, against ending the Iraq War, and for the increasingly openly fascistic program that includes Big Brother, torture, and illegal, immoral wars of imperialist conquest, are what are blocking the majority sentiment from being openly expressed. As the repressive measures (indefinite detentions, abrogation of due process, putting people on watch lists, firing dissident professors, and covert executions of dissident soldiers) increase, fear of the state and the fanatical extremist right is becoming a real factor. This latter element in the picture will grow as the Bush Regime and the U.S. government become more naked about their real agenda. Deception will be increasingly eclipsed by ruthless intimidation and force. Deception will not go away but the relative proportions of the deception/coercion-terror for exercising social control and their rule is shifting.

To uncork this genie from the bottle, to release the majority sentiment against these moral monstrosities, to turn this into a two-sided fight rather than a one-sided one, requires nothing less than that the movement create a competing, legitimate authority. I use the term fight here deliberately. It’s going to get, in fact, it’s already getting, ugly, nooses being hung to try to terrorize blacks is just one of the most blatant signs of this and the assassination of dissident soldiers (Pat Tillman being the most notable) another.

Our task is much greater than adopting the tactics of the old paradigm of mainly depending upon and calling for demonstrations in the streets. To be blunt: even if the old paradigm were to work (it’s not and it won’t) and we did get a couple million in the streets tomorrow, without a competing moral and political leadership to lead this forward beyond one or a few demonstrations, do you really think that we would see the dramatic, really historic and momentous, changes that need to occur? We’re talking here, after all, about a sharp reversal of a Mack Truck with a full load that’s barreling down the road at 100 miles an hour. We’re talking about executing a 180-degree skidding turn. We’re talking about a system that has been systematically dismantling the New Deal, building the neoliberal state, and is determinedly trying to bring into being a situation where international law and multilateralism are things of the past, where might makes right and that might emanates unapologetically from the good ole U.S.A. Bush and Cheney are merely the logical extension and continuation of the policies that began under Reagan and were carried forward a little more slowly under Clinton.

Do you think that big demonstrations will accomplish the reversal of all of this? Note that the reversal of this process that’s been underway for more than three and a half decades (in the most proximate sense) must include the dramatic repudiation of the GOP as a whole, the entire leadership of the Democratic Party, and the stenographers to power role played by the corporate media. Something this far-reaching and drastic cannot possibly occur absent a more generalized and deeper transformation of the balance of political forces on the day-to-day level. Can we imagine this happening without a much stronger understanding by the people at the grassroots and without their coming forward to grapple with the extremely dangerous and complicated situation that we collectively face? Can we imagine that a handful of people will be able to accomplish this gigantic task? Can we imagine even millions of people doing this without their stepping forward to be political organizers themselves in varying degrees?

What’s Holding People Back?

What is keeping people from expressing their sentiments in a visible way is a combination of factors. The most important one by far – as I indicated earlier - is the uniform opposition to it from policy-makers and media: both the GOP and the Democratic Party leadership are on board and are actively colluding with each other. The Democratic Party leadership isn’t doing this out of ignorance. They aren’t doing this because they are cowards. They are doing this because they are in agreement with the basic tenets of the GOP program. They are, after all, the other major party in the one imperialist superpower. (And that, by the way, is part of the point. We are no longer a world with two superpowers. There is no socialist camp that the U.S. imperialists have to contend with and compete against for the allegiance of the Third World. The unipolar nature of the post-1980s’ world dictates that the two major parties in this country are going to be uniformly bad and surpassingly uninterested in what their constituents and the people think.)

Even if there is an election in 2008 and even if a Democrat wins that election and even if the official vote tallies recognize their victory and even if a Democrat moves into the White House in 2009 (none of these things are sure things), this Bush program will not be reversed in any substantial and significant way.

This is already crystal clear to anyone paying a bit of attention and not blinded by his or her outmoded belief that the system they thought existed still exists. The Democratic majority in Congress has not challenged the precedents that Bush and Cheney have established. The Bush Regime’s egregious acts and policies have not even been spoken of, let alone opposed, by the leading Democratic candidates. People broadly in this society need to wake up to this terrible and shocking fact. There will be no saviors from the Democratic Party. Dennis Kucinich’s stands are obviously at variance with his party’s leadership, and that is precisely why he isn’t getting any decent coverage. Even Howard Dean was considered too outré for the presidency by the DLC back in 2004!

What else is holding the people back?

• Intimidation. Fear. An awareness that the people in power today are ruthless and monstrous. (Witness Andrew Meyer.)

• A mistaken sense that those who oppose what Bush and Cheney represent are in a minority.

• Lack of awareness of the full dimensions of what is afoot. People mostly know that there were torture pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib when the scandal first broke, but there hasn’t been any real truth in mainstream outlets to come out about it since (or about the rest of their horrid deeds) and it’s not in people’s faces all of the time. If it were in people’s faces all the time, or even more of the time, the political situation would be very different. Exposés of what they are doing are a critical part of what we must do.

• A widespread sense that there is nothing that people can do that will make a difference. This is related to, though not exclusively due to, the fact that this is America. Governments in other countries are afraid of the people. In America the people are afraid of the government. It is also due to the fact that in the last few election cycles, people have come out in large numbers to repudiate Bush and Cheney and look what good that’s done!

• Our own failure as activists to break with the old paradigm.

Breaking with the Old Paradigm, Embracing the New

We are facing an unprecedented situation. Do we really think that we can overcome the obstacles in this situation without bringing to bear unprecedented analyses and practices? Do we really believe that we could take the toolkit from the past and merely apply those tools to the present situation without making a “concrete analysis of concrete conditions?” We need to make a leap analytically and methodologically if we’re to have a chance. Demonstrations and political work as usual won’t and isn’t going to cut it.

The same reason why the broad masses of people don’t recognize that it would make a big difference if they started to act politically by taking a public stand against this regime and its monstrous program, the same challenge that this stepping into the new and unknown for them represents, is the very same kind of thinking that is holding back our own activist ranks from recognizing that we must do something that is equally uncomfortable: move from being demonstrators and organizers of actions to being organizers of the people.

Part 2 of this essay is continued here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Here Come the Thought Police

Published on Monday, November 19, 2007 by The Baltimore Sun

by Ralph E. Shaffer and R. William Robinson

With overwhelming bipartisan support, Rep. Jane Harman’s “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” passed the House 404-6 late last month and now rests in Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee. Swift Senate passage appears certain.

Not since the “Patriot Act” of 2001 has any bill so threatened our constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The historian Henry Steele Commager, denouncing President John Adams’ suppression of free speech in the 1790s, argued that the Bill of Rights was not written to protect government from dissenters but to provide a legal means for citizens to oppose a government they didn’t trust. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence not only proclaimed the right to dissent but declared it a people’s duty, under certain conditions, to alter or abolish their government.

In that vein, diverse groups vigorously oppose Ms. Harman’s effort to stifle dissent. Unfortunately, the mainstream press and leading presidential candidates remain silent.

Ms. Harman, a California Democrat, thinks it likely that the United States will face a native brand of terrorism in the immediate future and offers a plan to deal with ideologically based violence.

But her plan is a greater danger to us than the threats she fears. Her bill tramples constitutional rights by creating a commission with sweeping investigative power and a mandate to propose laws prohibiting whatever the commission labels “homegrown terrorism.”

The proposed commission is a menace through its power to hold hearings, take testimony and administer oaths, an authority granted to even individual members of the commission - little Joe McCarthys - who will tour the country to hold their own private hearings. An aura of authority will automatically accompany this congressionally authorized mandate to expose native terrorism.

Ms. Harman’s proposal includes an absurd attack on the Internet, criticizing it for providing Americans with “access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda,” and legalizes an insidious infiltration of targeted organizations. The misnamed “Center of Excellence,” which would function after the commission is disbanded in 18 months, gives the semblance of intellectual research to what is otherwise the suppression of dissent.

While its purpose is to prevent terrorism, the bill doesn’t criminalize any specific conduct or contain penalties. But the commission’s findings will be cited by those who see a terrorist under every bed and who will demand enactment of criminal penalties that further restrict free speech and other civil liberties. Action contrary to the commission’s findings will be interpreted as a sign of treason at worst or a lack of patriotism at the least.

While Ms. Harman denies that her proposal creates “thought police,” it defines “homegrown terrorism” as “planned” or “threatened” use of force to coerce the government or the people in the promotion of “political or social objectives.” That means that no force need actually have occurred as long as the government charges that the individual or group thought about doing it.

Any social or economic reform is fair game. Have a march of 100 or 100,000 people to demand a reform - amnesty for illegal immigrants or overturning Roe v. Wade - and someone can perceive that to be a use of force to intimidate the people, courts or government.

The bill defines “violent radicalization” as promoting an “extremist belief system.” But American governments, state and national, have a long history of interpreting radical “belief systems” as inevitably leading to violence to facilitate change.

Examples of the resulting crackdowns on such protests include the conviction and execution of anarchists tied to Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket Riot. Hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for several decades during the Cold War and the solo hearings by a member of that committee’s Senate counterpart, Joseph McCarthy, demonstrate the dangers inherent in Ms. Harman’s legislation.

Ms. Harman denies that her bill is a threat to the First Amendment. It clearly states that no measure to prevent homegrown terrorism should violate “constitutional rights, civil rights or civil liberties.”

But the present administration has demonstrated, in its response to criticism regarding torture, that it can’t be trusted to honor those rights.

Ralph E. Shaffer, professor emeritus of history at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and R. William Robinson, an elected director of a Southern California water district, wrote this article for the History News Service.

Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun

Saturday, November 17, 2007

U.N. Report Describes Risks of Inaction on Climate Change

From the New York Times, November 17, 2007


VALENCIA, Spain, Nov. 16 — In its final and most powerful report, a United Nations panel of scientists meeting here describes the mounting risks of climate change in language that is both more specific and forceful than its previous assessments, according to scientists here.

Synthesizing reams of data from its three previous reports, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time specifically points out important risks if governments fail to respond: melting ice sheets that could lead to a rapid rise in sea levels and the extinction of large numbers of species brought about by even moderate amounts of warming, on the order of 1 to 3 degrees.

The report carries heightened significance because it is the last word from the influential global climate panel before world leaders meet in Bali, Indonesia, next month to begin to discuss a global climate change treaty that will replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. It is also the first report from the panel since it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October — an honor that many scientists here said emboldened them to stand more forcefully behind their positions.

As a sign of the deepening urgency surrounding the climate change issue, the report, which was being printed Friday night, will be officially released by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.

The full report was embargoed from news organizations until Saturday. But drafts have been circulating for weeks, and descriptions of its findings began to appear on Web sites and in news agency reports on Friday. Bush administration officials held a news conference to discuss the report but insisted that their comments be withheld until after its official release.

“This document goes further than any of the previous efforts,” said Hans Verolme, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate Change Program. “The pressure has been palpable — people know they are delivering a document that will be cited for years to come and will define policy.”

The previous three sections, released between February and April, focused on one issue at a time: the first on science, the second on how the world could adapt to warming and the third about how countries could “mitigate,” or reduce the greenhouse gases produced.

This fourth and final assessment — the so-called synthesis report — seeks to combine lessons from all three. Its conclusions are culled from data contained in the thousands of pages that were essentially technical supplements to the panel’s previous publications. How that data is summarized and presented to the world is a powerful guide to what the scientists consider of utmost importance at the end of a five-year process, offering concrete guidelines for policy makers.

“You look to a synthesis report to provide clarity, to clarify what was obscure in previous reports,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University. “Now, how can we take these findings and formulate a policy response that’s quick enough and big enough?”

While drafts of the panel’s reports are written by panels of scientists, the language is reviewed and often altered by delegates from 130 governments who meet before their final approval and release. Those negotiations took place here this week, and were often contentious, with the United States, China and India raising many objections, said scientists who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to publicly refer to any countries by name.

The scientists and country representatives who had flocked here this week to participate in negotiations on the final wording applauded as the panel’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, declared the panel’s years of work concluded, just after 10:30 p.m. on Friday.

Even though the synthesis report is more alarming than its predecessors, some researchers believe that it still understates the trajectory of global warming and its impact. The I.P.C.C.’s scientific process, which takes five years of study and writing from start to finish, cannot take into account the very latest data on climate change or economic trends, which show larger than predicted development and energy use in China.

“The world is already at or above the worst case scenarios in terms of emissions,” said Gernot Klepper, of the Kiel Institute for World Economy in Kiel, Germany. “In terms of emissions, we are moving past the most pessimistic estimates of the I.P.C.C., and by some estimates we are above that red line.”

The panel presents several scenarios for the trajectory of emissions and climate change. In 2006, 8.4 gigatons of carbon were put into the atmosphere from fossil fuels, according to a study in the proceedings of the National Academy of Science, which was co-written by Dr. Klepper. That is almost identical to the panel’s worst case prediction for that year.

Likewise, a recent International Energy Agency report looking at the unexpectedly rapid emissions growth in China and India estimated that if current policies were not changed the world would warm six degrees by 2030, a disastrous increase far higher than the panel’s estimates of one to four degrees by the end of the century.

While the United States, Saudi Arabia and China tried to change the text in order to play down the consequences of global warming, developing nations — which will bear the initial brunt of climate change — were much more forceful than at previous meetings in opposing these efforts, one scientist who was in the negotiating room said.

"I suspect that will continue,” he said. “As they feel more and more threatened by the sea and the storms they will insist that, as one of them put it, ‘We do not want this report to be warm and fuzzy when the reality is cold and risky,’ or something like that,” he said.

One novel aspect of the report is a specific list of “Reasons for Concern.” It includes items that are thought to be very likely outgrowths of climate change that had been mentioned in previous reports, like an increase in extreme weather events.

But it for the first time includes less likely but more alarming possibilities, like the relatively rapid melting of polar ice. Previous reports focused more on changes the scientists felt were “highly likely.”

“This time, they take a step back and look at the totality,” Dr. Verolme said. “Saying it is less likely to occur, but if it does we are fried.”

One such area is the future melting of ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica. In earlier reports, the panel’s scientists acknowledged that their computer models were poor at such predictions, and did not reflect the rapid melting that scientists have recently observed. If these areas melt entirely, seas would rise 40 feet, scientists said. While scientists are certain that the sheets will melt over millennia, producing sea-level rises, there is now evidence to suggest that it could happen much faster than this, perhaps over centuries.

“In my view that would make it not just difficult, but impossible to adapt successfully, some of my colleagues would say catastrophic,” said Dr. Oppenheimer. “If they say that it’s possible that melting could occur in centuries leading to meters of change, that’s a headline.”

This final report also puts more emphasis on the ripple effect of small degrees of temperature change, some of which are already being seen, such as species extinctions and loss of biodiversity.

“A relatively modest degree of warming — one to three degrees — spells a lot of trouble and I think that was not clear in the previous report,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. He said part of the reason for the lack of clarity was that governments had “messed around” with the language and structure of the report during the approval process.

This time around, the consequences of different degrees of climate change will be better laid out so that the ministers who meet in Bali next month will understand the options and the consequences of inaction. “This should light a fire under policy makers,” Dr. Oppenheimer said.

Andrew C. Revkin contributed reporting from New York.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture: on the Bush White House

Dear Dennis,

The administration is kidding itself when it thinks it can get away with torture. And why? No less an authority than the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture says so. It won't happen tomorrow, but I do believe that there's a reasonably good chance administration officials implicated in our practice of torture will ultimately face the bar of justice. To better understand what's at stake I talked with Professor Manfred Nowak, the aforementioned UN Special Rapporteur, who doesn't pull any punches.

Why, I wonder, by the way, haven't any mainstream journalists (either print or broadcast) interviewed him? He's got a lot to say that's newsworthy on this critically important subject.

This is one of the best shows I've put together, both substantively and from a technical point of view. I very much hope you find time to listen and that it proves useful.

As always, please redistribute the link if you feel it's appropriate.

Thanks for listening!


g. [George Kenney]

Go to: Electric Politics

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"The Threat of U.S. Fascism: An Historical Precedent"

[I'm reposting this excellent essay by Alan Nasser because it merits a wide audience. Note that one of the 1934 coup conspirators was Prescott Bush, W's grandfather. But what is at least as important as this fact is what Nasser details about the role of the Democratic Party in the face of a genuine fascist threat, both then and now.]

By Alan Nasser, [1]

Perhaps the most alarming slice of twentieth-century U.S. history is virtually unknown to the general public, including most scholars of American history. One hopes that a recent BBC documentary titled The Plot Against America and an article of the same name by Columbia Law School professor and longtime human rights activist Scott Horton, on the website of Harper’s magazine, will sound an alert.

In 1934 a special Congressional committee was appointed to conduct an investigation of a possible planned coup intended to topple the administration of president Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace it with a government modelled on the policies of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The shocking results of the investigation were promptly scotched and stashed in the National Archives. While the coup attempt was reported at the time in a few newspapers, including The New York Times, the story disappeared from public memory shortly after the Congressional findings were made available to president Roosevelt. It was the recent release from the Archives of the Congressional report that prompted the BBC and Horton commentaries.

The Congressional committee had discovered that some of the foremost members of the economic elite, many of them household names at the time, had indeed hatched a meticulously detailed and massively funded plot to effect a fascist coup in America. The owners of Bird’s Eye, Maxwell House and Heinz, among others, totaling about twenty four major businessmen and Wall Street financiers, planned to assemble a private army of half a million men, composed largely of unemployed veterans. These troops would both constitute the armed force behind the coup and defeat any resistance this in-house revolution might generate. The economic elite would provide the material resources required to sustain the new government.

The plotters hoped that widespread working-class discouragement at the stubborn persistence of the Great Depression would have sufficiently disenchanted the masses with FDR’s policies to make the coup an easy ride. And they were appalled at Roosevelt’s willingness after 1933 to initiate economic policies that economists and businessmen considered dangerously Leftist departures from economic orthodoxy. Only a fascist-style government, they thought, could enforce the kind of economic “discipline” that would reverse the Great Depression and restore profits.

Interestingly, it was a military man, a prominent retired general assigned the task of raising the 500,000-man army, who blew the whistle after pondering the grotesque implications of the undemocratic installation of a fascist dictatorship in Washington. FDR was thus able to nip the plot in the bud.

The president might have used the occasion to alert the public to the anti-democratic impulses of a major segment of the capitalist class. But this of course would only have bolstered the fortunes of Communist, Socialist and other anti-capitalist political tendencies here, which were already gaining some ground among artists, intellectuals and a surprising number of working people. It is well known that Hollywood screenwriting in the 1930s was replete with Communist-inspired sentiment.

And of course we must not forget that FDR was himself a (somewhat renegade) member of the very class that would have toppled him. While FDR was open to watered-down Keynesian policies in a way that very few of his class comrades were, his commitment (like Keynes’s) to the “free enterprise” system was unconditional. He had no interest in publicizing a plot that might constitute a public-relations victory for anti-capitalist politics. He therefore refused to out the plotters, and sought no punitive measures against them. In the end, class solidarity carried the day for Roosevelt. The Congressional committee cooperated by refusing to reveal the names of many of the key plotters.

Thus, fascist tendencies gestating deep within the culture of the U.S. ruling class were effectively left to develop unhindered by mass political mobilization.

Might this grisly episode have important implications for our understanding of the current political moment? One may be inclined to think so on the basis of the fact that one of the architects of the plot was one Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W. Bush. Bush, along with many other big businessmen, had maintained friendly relations in 1933 and 1934 with the new German government of Chancellor Adolph Hitler, and was designated to form for his class conspirators a working relationship with that government.

While Bush-bashing is highly recommended, the implications of this unsettling piece of history for contemporary politics run deeper than many of us would like to think. There is the temptation to point triumphantly to George W. Bush’s commitment to the irrelevance of the Constitution, which he has sneeringly referred to as “a piece of paper”, his corresponding contempt for hitherto taken-for-granted fundamental human rights, his Hobbesian notion of unbridled sovereignty, his militarized notion of political power and corresponding bull-in-a-china-shop foreign policy - there is the temptation to regard these genuinely fascist elements as the most significant contemporary remnant of the 1934 conspiracy.

But no less important is the utter absence in 1934 of liberal attempts to educate the public to, and mobilize the population against, the fascist threat. FDR stood down.

Although Rooseveltian/New Deal liberalism is dead, contemporary Democrats do sustain one of FDR’s least seemly qualities, namely his refusal to encourage effective mass opposition to fascist and imperialist politics. John Kerry boasted of having contributed to the drafting of the Patriot Act. And in the most recent round of crucial legislation regarding the war in Iraq, the Democrats gave Bush everything he wanted. All the major presidentail contenders of both parties support a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq. None has repudiated the conceit that Uncle sam is and should ever be the global hegemon. And most importantly, none has repudiated the Neoliberal Consensus, the notion that the market should be left to operate as “freely” as the public can be persuaded to allow it to act, and, crucially, that this is a model that should be imposed globally through the power of the U.S. working in tandem with such powerful global institutions as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.

To the extent that this policy has been successful, inequalities between national classes and between the global North and South have widened dramatically since the decline of the Keynesian consensus in the mid-1970s. Since the Mondale candidacy, no Democrat has had a full-employment plank in his presidential platform. The median wage has been in secular decline since 1973, and the distribution of national income between capital and labor has not been as skewed toward capital since the Great Depression. But no member of either party has made a major issue of this.

One of the most powerful obstacles to appreciating the relevance of the 1934 planned coup to our times is the virtually ubiquitous misconception that the gross inequalities and anti-working-class policies now evident, and the reckless carnage that characterizes U.S. foreign policy, is the result of the “neoconservative revolution” ushered in by George W. Bush. But it was Clinton’s cynical jettisoning of his relatively progressive Economic Stimulus Plan, his abolition of “welfare as we know it” without providing a replacement, and his ruthless bombing of Yugoslavia and “sanctions” against Iraq that both foreshadowed and paved the way for Bush’s atrocities. The truism that the Democratic Party has moved ever closer to the Republicans since the Carter administration must not be forgotten. Indeed it is an understatement. To fully appreciate the reality of democratic capitulation as an alleged “opposition party” we need only reflect upon the consequences of Clinton’s sanctions against Iraq.

Clinton bombed Iraq several times weekly for eight years. Defense Information Agency documents, now available through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the strategy of the bombing was to extensively bomb water purification facilities and power generating facilities with the explicit intention to spread diseases that would affect children. The idea was to pressure ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, with the knowledge that if they did so, the pedicide would cease. But Iraqis blamed Washington for this catastrophe, not Saddam. When Saddam offered to accede to Clinton’s requirements for ending the bombing, Clinton abruptly replied that no possible concessions on Saddam’s part would lead him to end the bombing/sanctions.

Extensive investigations by widely respected sources, including the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet, determined that the number of Iraqi children who died as a direct result of the pedicidal bombardment was 467,000. And it added a fact unreported in the U.S. media, that the U.S. use of depleted uranium in the attacks had resulted in the first known cases of breast cancer afflicting four-year-old girls. When Clinton’s Secretary of state Madeline Albright was asked by Lesley Stahl in 1996 on 60 Minutes whether she thought that the removal of Saddam from power was worth killing a half million children, she replied that “Yes, it was worth it.”

Is this qualitatively different from the death and destruction that Bush has wrought? Of course not. The British playwright Harold Pinter has characterized both Clinton and Bush as “mass murderers”, and the accusation sounds indeed brutal. But is it accurate? How can one deny that it is?

Today’s Democrats’ abdication of the role of opposition party is far more consequential than Roosevelt’s decision to permit our embryonic fascists to continue to gestate. The difference between FDR and his Republican antagonists was far greater than the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats today. Today’s Democrats have internalized and identified with the interests of those whom they should be actively mobilizing the population against. The Republocrats are now all of them heir to the fascist instincts inherent in the ruling elite. Republican elites manifest this in their policies as the party in power; Democratic elites evidence their unsavory class heritage by railing ritualistically against the Republicans even as they betray their fed-up constituencies by supporting the fundamental policies of their alleged “opponents”.

Effective opposition at the current historical juncture requires the only force capable of defeating the neoliberal and imperialist obsessions of the mainstream parties and their financial masters: street politics, the mobilization and eventual organization of the people against a ruling establishment seen by an increasing number of Americans as terminally corrupt and indifferent to their most pressing needs.

Lest this popular disaffection be siphoned into an impotent and resigned cynicism, it would seem that intense educational efforts regarding the desirability and possibility of a third party, a genuine party of labor, become a priority for serious progressives. [This is the one part of Nasser's argument that I disagree with. He's right in the preceding paragraph that street politics are an absolute necessity and our only hope. An electorally based third party isn't. - DL] MoveOn must yield to MoveBeyond. As harder economic times threaten the not distant future, the economic stagnation and austerity that is fertile soil for the growth of fascist politics poses an unmistakbly clear and present danger. Thinking and acting outside the political box has never been as pressing an impertive as it is now.

Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia Wa. His articles have
appeared in The Nation, Monthly Review, Commonweal, Common Dreams and a number of professional journals.

Source URL:


Bridging the Gap

[From World Can't Wait] The world of contract bridge was jolted when the championship team of 4 women from the U.S. held up a sign saying “we did not vote for Bush” at a banquet following a recent world tournament in China. The U.S. Bridge Federation has reacted with venomous threats worthy of Alberto Gonzalez or Dick Cheney because these women dared to speak the truth in a creative and visible way, in an international forum. But telling the truth about war criminals is no crime – many more people, in all spheres of life, can learn from these women, and disrupt the complacency of everyday routine with acts that call out the war criminals, and let the world know they do not represent us.

(Link here for the N.Y. Times article on this incident).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Update: Expulsions Dropped for the Morton 25

R. Sand, Chicago IMC
[ ]

Berwyn, IL 11/13/07

In an abrupt turn-around, District 201 Superintendent Nowakowski takes expulsions off the table and sends most student protestors back to school tomorrow.

Less than 2 hours after stating he would release a comment on the looming student expulsions in a day or two, Dr. Ben Nowakowski, Superintendent of the J.S. Morton schools in suburban Berwyn issued a statement dropping all threat of expulsions and sending most students back to school on Wednesday. More than two dozen students, were facing expulsion after an anti-war sit-in at the school on November first.

Since the protest, the numbers of students suspended has slowly decreased from a high of over 37 to a count of 18 cited today by the superintendent. In the statement posted on the District 201 website, Nowakowski says that "14 of the 18 students will be cleared to return to class on Wednesday, November 14; the remaining 4 students who bore more culpability for the disruption that occurred in the opinion of this administration will be cleared to return to class on Friday, November 16."

This is good news for parents whose children were still facing expulsion after several suspenion appeals meetings with school officials. Since the press conference held by the parents a week ago, school officials and the Board of Education have been barraged by the press, members of peace, social justice and civil rights groups and have felt the pressure of scrutiny by political figures including the Reverend Jesse Jackson and State Representative LaShawn Ford. Dr. Charles Flowers, the regional superintendent, also said he was inquiring into the harsh punishment of the students.

Although relieved by the reprieve, parent, Pam Winstead said the next step is to make sure that the students' records are expunged of any reference to expulsion. Winstead said a group of the suspended students have been meeting to makes plans on how to continue their protest and desire to educate the student body about the war through a school-approved manner.

Some of the students are expected to speak at the Iraq Moratorium rally in Federal Plaza at 4:30pm on Friday, November 16th and are performing in a concert dedicated to them at Elmhurst College on Saturday the 17th.

-- Chicago Independent Media Center

Monday, November 5, 2007

A ‘Paper Coup,’ and Blackwater Eyes Midtown Manhattan

[To expand on Naomi Wolf's first sentence below: the closing stages of a fascist shift where events cascade, I've written a little about in "What Time Is It?" and am working on in another piece. There is a shift in the relative proportions of deception and outright intimidation and repression. The upping of the ante in repression is designed to try to squelch any who might think of resisting. Their fangs start to come out and they make much less of an effort to appear to be democrats (with a small d) and rule increasingly through terror.

The abdication of leadership by the Democratic Party and the corporate media has cleared the path to these fascists. The choice stands before us starkly whether or not the people will rise up and resist. This is not something that will or can happen all of a sudden. The process is one that must, however, begin in earnest and the brave ones must step forward and the ones who have been sitting on the sidelines must start to act to bring forward others until we are in the millions.]

By Naomi Wolf

I have argued that in the closing stages of a `fascist shift’, events cascade. I am hearing about them, even across the globe. Here in Australia I hear from the nation’s best-know feminist activist, and former adviser to Paul Keating, Anne Summers, who was also at the time this took place Chair of the Board of Greenpeace International. Summers was detained by armed agents for FIVE HOURS each way in LAX on her way to and from the annual meeting of the board of Greenpeace International in Mexico, and her green card was taken away from her. `I want to call a lawyer’, she told TSA agents. `Ma’am, you do not have a right to call an attorney,’ they replied. `You have not entered the United States.’

Apparently a section of LAX just beyond the security line is asserted to be `not in the United States’ — though it is squarely inside the airport — so the laws of the US do not apply. (This assertion, by the way, should alarm any US citizen who is aware of how the White House argued that Guantanamo is not `in the United States’ - is a legal no-man’s land — so the laws of the US do not apply.) Toward the end of her second five-hour detention she asked, `Why am I being detained?’ `Lady, this is not detention,’ the TSA agent told her. `Detention is when I take you to the cells out back and lock you up.’

Last week in Boston, while attending Bioneers by the Bay, I heard that one of the speakers for our event, an environmentalist named Gunter Pauli, was going to miss the time of his scheduled speech; he had been physically taken OFF THE PLANE by TSA agents and had to take a much later flight. More chillingly, the camerawoman doing my interview said that another well-known environmental writer found that his girlfriend was effectively `disappeared’ for three days as she sought to enter the US from Canada. Lisa Fithian, an anti-globalization activist, was denied entry across the Canadian border in 2001 and was offered the choice of turning back or being arrested.

A friend emails me a story from USA Today about a 24-year-old college graduate who testified before Congress about her family of immigrants and the difficulties they face; shortly afterward, the entire family was arrested by immigration agents. Another online piece reports that Blackwater is setting up operations along the US/Mexico border and an insightful post on Daily Kos describes how the TSA list will revert from the airlines to the management of the Department of Homeland Security shortly and that by February we may well face the need to apply to the State for permission to travel. If this proposed regulation goes through, we will move from 1931 to about 1934–when the borders started to close– with the stroke of a pen. Jews in America have hardwired into their DNA a sense of the distinction between those who got out before the borders closed and those who waited a moment too long.

Why should Congress impeach and prosecute this instant, not waiting till February? Why should this impeachment and prosecution be solidly bipartisan? After February it is the leaders on both sides of the aisle — and the people writing these essays — who are at most risk of being turned back at the border. People who can’t leave in a police state are effectively silenced. And history shows that Republicans are at the exact same risk as Democrats of being violently silenced once liberties are lost. I am reading about IBM’s close, profitable involvement with Nazi Germany — much akin to Prescott Bush’s well-documented close and profitable involvement with Nazi Germany through German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. Right up to the top of the solidly Nazi hierarchy of the IBM affiliate, corporate executives were terrified of taking a wrong step in the eyes of the Party: `There are concentration camps’, they would whisper to their US backers. The teenage son of one solid Nazi ally was taken hostage when he resisted Party orders. So alignment with the regime in a police state offers no ultimate protection.

Let us think like business consultants analyzing the decisions of a business that claims it is going to close its door in just a year. What kinds of decisions is it making? Here is a quiz, if you still doubt that we need to shift our thinking and recognize what appears to be ‘a paper coup.’:

- Is building a US Embassy in Baghdad the size of eighty football fields and at a cost of well more than half a BILLION dollars evidence of short- or long-term thinking?

- These walls would crumble if the next legitimate president independently ends the war. How about defending and expanding the basis for FISA violations at this late stage — after all, these folks will be gone in a year?

- How about the decision to fight so hard for a US attorney who will defend the view that the President is above the law?

- Why would that matter so much in an administration folding its tents?

- Why the rush to establish Guantanamo as a permanent part of the landscape and even seek money at one point to double its size — if the next President, a truly independent Republican or Democrat, might just close it down?

- Why the push to expand a war that makes no military or popular sense, rush through military tribunals that the next President might just disband, and, by the way, drum up a fresh new World War III?

- Do the neo-cons advising Giuliani look like a fresh page for an independent, transparent election or an ideological continuity of government in themselves?

- Do these look like the short-term tactics of a fading administration — or the institutional strategic bases for some kind of new long-term beginning?

- Why work so hard to make sure that the man who defended the infamous “enemy combatant” concept will be the new Attorney General?

Increasingly, reputable figures are starting to talk about `a coup.’ Jim Hightower notes in an important essay, “Is a Presidential Coup Under Way?,” that a coup is defined in the dictionary as a sudden forced change in the form of government. (He also spells out the basis for a rigorously modeled impeachment and criminal prosecution.) Daniel Ellsberg’s much-emailed speech on recent events notes that, in his view, a `coup’ has already taken place. Ron Rosenbaum speculates in an essay on Slate about the reasons the Bush administration is withholding even from members of Congress its plans for Continuity of Government in an emergency — noting that those worrying about a coup are no longer so marginal. Frank Rich notes the parallels between ourselves and the Good Germans. And Congress belatedly realizes as if waking from a drugged sleep that it might not be okay for the Attorney General to say the President need not obey the law. Congress may realize why Mukasey CAN’T say that `waterboarding is torture’ — the minute he does so he has laid the grounds for Bush, Cheney and any number of CIA and Blackwater interrogators to be tried and convicted for war crimes. They are so keenly aware that what they have been doing is criminal that laws such as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 have been drafted specifically to protect them and the torturers and murderers they have directed from criminal prosecution. That is why insisting that Mukasey say that waterboarding is torture is, in spite of the alarming apparent defection of Feinstein and Schumer, an important tactic and even the perfect opening for the impeachment bid that Kucinich is bringing on November 6th to be followed by Congressional investigations into possible criminality.

This is the “Blackwater Tactical Weekly.” (Yes, Blackwater has its own weekly e-newsletter.) Look at “Islamist protest in N.Y. - ‘Mushroom cloud on way’” — it is reasonable to speculate that Blackwater is focusing on becoming more active domestically in managing domestic protests and rallies. (Regarding this particular rally, note the repetition of the White House `Mushroom Cloud’ sound-bite and other signs bearing current White House talking points, that are attributed to alleged Muslim protesters in New York City. The US has a long history of using agents provocateurs — people dressed as those they are targeting, who pose as conveying a more violent or threatening message than that of the real group itself or who commit acts of violence to stigmatize the group. The Cointelpro program of the 1970’s discredited many rallies in this way. An alleged or infiltrated violent, threatening Muslim rally would be the perfect defensible trigger for a Blackwater response.)

See also that Blackwater may be exploring the management of private flights in US airports because of a threat or `threat’ to private aircraft. (”Extremists may target private US planes: TSA.”) This entry point to the air travel system would seem defensible — after all Blackwater personnel do in fact guard airports around the world, for example in Bosnia. The danger is that a bleeding of Blackwater into US airport security in general would affect a coup in essence — quite quickly and serenely — even as a coup in fact need not be declared. It is a short step from managing private plane and private airport security to aiding the TSA — which is a branch of Homeland Security — and Homeland Security and Blackwater have already worked in alliance with one another in New Orleans. A TSA agent blogged about having signed up for Blackwater — at ten thousand a month, which is a lot more than TSA agents make now and a real incentive — but I have no evidence of reverse movement. The White House recently announced that the Watch List and No-Fly List together have 775,000 citizens and that they are adding 20,000 A MONTH. This trend on both sides, if not confronted, points to an easy slide to a paramilitarized domestic flight experience in the US and a routine aggressive searching of hundreds of thousands of citizens, the growth being exponential enough so that being aggressively searched could easily soon become a common experience at airports. Nothing at present prevents Blackwater agents from being deployed to help or replace the TSA domestically. Or from being deployed at the next New York City rally such as the one that is being featured on their website. And airports being the lifeline of freedom, if you are scared to fly or can be bullied, interrogated, tasered or worse when flying, you are no longer free. History shows that there is no easy retroactive movement toward a free society once travel is truly restricted.

The Mukasey hesitation on torture is our cue to call a halt to these crimes. (By the way, strapping victims to boards to prepare them for torture was common at Buchenwald.)

Congress must ask:

- What is torture?

- Has it happened?

- Who ordered it?

- How high up the chain of command does this go?

- And what does our system of laws say about such crimes and those who commit them?

If it takes hearings and possible prosecutions to restore the rule of law and maintain a free society, then it is past time for the hearings to begin.

Naomi Wolf’s essays have appeared in various publications including: The New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Ms., Esquire, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. The Beauty Myth, her first book, was an international bestseller