I was sufficiently aware of Mao Zedong’s attempts to export ‘people’s war’ to believe that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, too, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position. The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia]… As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.
This is really heartwarming, and heartbreaking.
‘Maria Cioffi was 11 when war broke out in the Balkans, a bloody conflict in which U.N. rules forced Canadian peacekeepers to stand by and watch the slaughter. Now, 25 years later, a letter written by Cioffi is bringing solace to the soldiers who have been haunted by their helplessness.’
Rich Lowry on why Trump and the Republicans are joined at the hip:
Trump’s welfare is inextricably caught up with the party’s. Every point his approval rating ticks up means fewer House seats lost in the midterms. It’s quite possible that in 2020 his prospects will be the difference between Republicans controlling one or more of the elected branches in Washington, or unified Democratic control.
From the “Plus ça change . . . ” Dept, American Nativism Division:
Though we often think of our era as polarized, the political climate of the 1850s was far worse. At the center of that decade’s violence and vitriol were secret anti-immigration societies. Called “Know Nothings” because their members would play dumb if asked about the organizations, they considered themselves “Native Americans” opposed to increasing immigration. To combat “foreign” influence they tampered with elections, intimidated voters, and attacked immigrants. One popular Detroit Know Nothing even enjoined his readers to “carry your revolver and shoot down the first Irish rebel that dare insult your person as an American!” In the era before the Civil War, a startling number of Americans responded to the arrival of “Celt scoundrels” with firearms.
B.C. folks, especially (but also the state of Washington), take note:
‘Dear Oregon, Washington,
and British Columbia Zinn Education Project friends,
We are excited about the upcoming “Reclaiming Common Ground: A Cross-Border Conference for British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon teachers.” Keynote speakers are Naomi Klein and Seth Klein.
Saturday, April 7, 2018
8:30 am – 4:30 pm, lunch provided
Sullivan Heights Secondary School
6248 144 St.
Surrey, British Columbia
Buzzfeed: ‘The author of the famous Trump dossier provided a secret report to the FBI asserting that RT founder Mikhail Lesin was bludgeoned to death by thugs hired by an oligarch close to Putin. Three other sources independently told the FBI the same basic story, contradicting the government’s finding that Lesin’s death was accidental.’
A short piece by George Lakoff makes the distinction crystal clear.
Unfortunately, that distinction is not generally accepted in the United States, and as a result a great deal of bigotry is tolerated on the grounds of First Amendment rights.
For example, the Charlottesville march by neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white nationalists was defended by many as an exercise of free speech.
Here is Lakoff’s article: Why Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.
A web site offering guidance to those who want to do something to improve conditions for people living in extreme poverty.
Information has, in the internet age, moved to the forefront in the arsenal of weapons used in political and international struggles. China emphasizes defensive measures in the new information wars, investing heavily in its “Great Firewall” to cut off its citizens’ access to news and ideas the government deems inappropriate or dangerous. Russia is taking the offensive approach, flooding the media with disinformation to such an extent that many people, not knowing what to believe, cease to believe anything they read or hear. The United States, with its Wild West adulation of “Freedom!” above all, has proved particularly vulnerable to the torrent of lies and half-truths found today on the internet. In their responses to this torrent, Americans resemble the young students I have taught over the years. When a claim or idea they previously believed to be true is shown to be false, they rush to the conclusion that there is no truth at all. When political leaders they had formerly admired, or at least had assumed to be honorable, turn out to have been dishonest, they rush to the conclusion that all politicians are corrupt. “The system is rotten to the core!” people exclaim, and others from all points on the political spectrum nod their heads vigorously.
But there are honest, conscientious politicians, and there is a difference between truth and lies. So how can we recover our footing? Our response to these challenges may well determine whether the democratic experiment begun in America in 1776 continues, or whether the chaos grows so pervasive that Americans decide that, for the moment at least, they would prefer more order and less freedom.
Many people wiser and more experienced than I will have ideas, but here are three to start with—none of which is original to me.
- We need to make it possible to run for political office without having to raise millions of dollars. Our politicians should not have to spend their time fundraising instead of working to solve our society’s problems, and they should never have to feel pressured by rich donors and special-interest groups who, if offended, could engineer their defeat in the next election.
- We need to reform or replace PBS and NPR so that we have a completely non-partisan, independently-funded, non-profit source of news that is freely accessible to all. Commercial media organizations depend on advertising for their funding, which means they must keep their ratings as high as possible by publishing sensational content, while avoiding the sort of “boring,” long-form material that would actually do justice to the complex political and social and economic issues before us. Dependence on advertisers also means that commercial media organizations are subject to pressure from their advertisers to avoid controversial material.
- We need to honor education, and educated people. We need to promote education as a good in and of itself, in addition to whatever economic benefits it may bring. The deeply-ingrained suspicion of education in American culture, the denigration of “intellectuals,” the insistence that ignorance and manual labor go together, and that the ignorant manual laborer is more admirable than the ivory-tower university professor—these attitudes are unsustainable in a democracy that depends on every citizen being educated, well-informed, and highly skilled in the critical thinking that, today more than ever, citizens must employ to make wise decisions in the voting booth.
From the “Decline of Western Civilization” Dept, North American Division.
The Founding Fathers feared direct democracy, and referred to it as “mob rule.” Recent events may tend to increase our sympathy for such an elitist and decidedly old-fashioned idea. We may also pause for a moment to appreciate the ironic role played in these events by the Electoral College, which was invented by those same Founding Fathers both to satisfy the fears of slave-owning states that they would be outvoted by “free” states, and to prevent “the mob” from making a populist demagogue their President.
We have had Presidents on television for a while, but now we have our first Television President. A man who doesn’t, and quite possibly cannot, read. A man who watches TV addictively, and has even confessed in an interview that he gets his information about foreign policy by watching television. A man whose core support comes from people who seem to be equally addicted to watching television, and equally allergic to reading, and whose view of the world often has the same relation to reality as popular TV programs.
How long will it be before someone seriously suggests reviving literacy tests for voter registration—not as a tool to stop African-Americans from voting, but as a tool to prevent the utter destruction of the nation by millions of people who depend on TV for their information?
In the past, dynasties and monarchies declined and fell when their leaders became corrupt, decadent, and weak—but there was always a group of new, vigorous leaders at hand who sooner or later took power and restored order. What happens in a democracy when a substantial portion of the electorate declines intellectually, and morally? We take it as a commonplace that some “developing” nations are not ready for democracy because too many of their people are uneducated, and therefore unprepared to function as well-informed voters. We accept the idea that such nations require authoritarian government, at least for a while.
By that logic, wouldn’t a nation whose people, in significant numbers, lack the education and knowledge to function as citizens—who function, essentially, as a mob—wouldn’t such a nation also require authoritarian rulers?
Finally, if we accept the claim that large numbers of Americans are now ignorant, misinformed, and incapable of intelligently discussing economics, foreign affairs, and social policy, how in the world could this have happened in “the greatest nation on earth”? I can think of numerous factors that probably helped bring us to this sad condition. But let historians charting the decline of the United States note that while the seeds of decay were planted when the economy was hijacked by the military-industrial complex, the final collapse was precipitated by two generations of Americans filling their bodies with sugar-laced junk food, and their minds with the stupidities of television.
The Television President was elected, after all, by the Television Nation.
Someone with talent in the visual arts should produce a parody of the famous scene from The Wizard of Oz in which Toto pulls back the curtain that has been hiding Professor Marvel as he works the controls to produce the phantasmagoric speaking head of the Wizard. Marvel sees Dorothy and her friends looking at him, panics, and then cries desperately into his microphone, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
In the parody I imagine, the speaking head, of course, is Mr. Trump, mesmerizing the nation with his buffoonish, button-pushing tweets. Unlike Professor Marvel, Trump has an assistant in this task: the irrepressibly dishonest Kellyanne Conway. Behind the curtain of Trump’s carnival show is a whole collection of men who will be doing the real work of his administration, and it is those people who we should be attending to, not the bubbling, blathering head that is Donald Trump, or his deliberately provocative spokesperson, Conway.
The media have, so far, been unable to break the Pavlovian cycle in which Trump tweets and they rush to thesauruses searching out fresh synonyms for outrageous, untrue, and offensive. It is their job, of course, to report the President’s words, but the real problem, as has been the case all along, is that Trump is great for their ratings, i.e., his mouth is money in the bank for them. If in the meantime the country is being liquidated by the men behind the curtain, well, that doesn’t make such good copy. That doesn’t generate many clicks.
It is up to all of us, therefore, to deny Trump the attention he craves, and to instead keep our focus on the work being done behind that curtain. Don’t share or re-post or comment on the latest blast of verbal garbage from our President. Instead, seek out news of what his cabinet officials, his other appointees, and his Republican allies in the Congress are doing. Share, re-post, and comment on those news items.
Pay no attention to that babbling head up on the screen.
. . . you don’t like weak women
You get bored so quick
And you don’t like strong women
‘Cause they’re hip to your tricks . . .
—Joni Mitchell, “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio”
Hillary Clinton is far from the first strong woman in public life to be slandered relentlessly by her political opponents and those offended by feminine leadership. Let us take a brief tour.
Wu Zetian (624 – 705) was the only female emperor of China. Despite being a strong ruler who governed well, her reputation as a scheming, ruthless woman willing to do anything to gain and keep power overwhelmed her accomplishments.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1204) was Queen of France, then Queen of England, and the mother of three kings of England. She was highly educated, and played an important role in the political and military struggles during the latter part of Henry II’s reign as King of England. In the popular imagination, however, her reputation was formed by fanciful stories of her leading a group of decadent nobles in scandalous sexual practices, and a vicious rumor that she had murdered one of Henry’s mistresses.
Isabeau of Bavaria (1370 – 1435) became Queen of France at the age of fifteen when she married Charles VI. Caught up in vicious power struggles when Charles’s mental illness left him unable to rule, Queen Isabeau was accused of about every crime possible, including adultery and witchcraft. This reputation lasted until 20th-century historians reviewed the evidence and discovered that she was intelligent, well-educated, pious, devoted to her children, and an effective ruler in her husband’s place.
Catherine de Medici (1519 – 1589) was Queen of France from 1547 to 1559 and played a leading role in the Byzantine power struggles among the French nobility during the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants. Though clearly no better or worse than the Bourbons and Guises and other rivals for power, Catherine—as not only a woman but a foreigner, being the daughter of Lorenzo de Medici of Florence—got most of the blame for a host of poisonings, assassinations, and political back-stabbings.
Catherine the Great (1729-96) ruled Russia for more than thirty years. Compared with other Russian emperors, she was clearly above average as a reformer and a supporter of Enlightenment ideals. Like her male counterparts, she took lovers, but the stories told about her falsely accused her not just of licentiousness, but of perversion. These slanders culminated in the rumor that she died from a stroke suffered while attempting to have sexual intercourse with a stallion.
Empress Dowager Cixi of China (1835 -1908) was a remarkable woman who began her imperial career as a lowly concubine but ended up as the mother of the heir to the throne and, as Regent, the nominal ruler of China for decades. Surrounded by powerful factions in a dying empire, Cixi successfully navigated among them but was slandered as vicious, sexually perverse, manipulative, extravagant, power-hungry, and so on.
So is Hillary the devious, lying, scheming, ambitious, ruthless harridan that the Republicans say she is? Sure. And do you know the story of the servant girl that Cixi murdered by throwing her down a well?
All right, folks, settle down there. I want to welcome you all to Human Rights Camp. You will all say that you are not here by your own choice, but we know that’s not true. Each of you has chosen to commit gross violations of human rights, despite repeated complaints, criticisms, and remonstrations from all over the world. So let’s start by owning what we’ve done. Russia, you go first., and then we’ll go around the circle clockwise.
Why me first?
Because you always want to be #1.
Oh. Well, in that case . . . I’ve been murdering journalists and opposition politicians who criticize Mr. Putin. And committing other crimes in the Ukraine.
Our women have very limited rights. We execute anyone who criticizes us. And then there’s Yemen . . .
We are squeezing the Palestinians on the West Bank, keeping them virtual prisoners in Gaza, beating and arresting any of them who protest, shooting any of them who we think are trying to attack us . . . shall I go on?
No, Israel, that’s enough for now.
Well, there’s the torture, and the illegal invasions, and the secret CIA prisons in foreign countries, and the drone bombs killing innocent bystanders, and at home our police shoot brown people for no good reason on a fairly regular basis.
You remember our response to the mass protests a while back, right? We haven’t had much trouble since then.
Anyone who criticizes the Party or agitates for more freedom just disappears.
How much time do we have here?
Not enough, Syria. We’ll get into the details in tomorrow morning’s session.
Where’s North Korea? They’re much worse than we are.
I agree! And what about Cuba?
As you can see, we have limited facilities here. Those countries you mention, along with several others, are scheduled for the next session.
Well, that was a good beginning. It seems you all have gotten past the denial stage and are ready to work on changing your behavior. I have to warn you, this is going to be a tough two weeks. At the end of it, though, you’ll be able to walk out of here with a new sense of self-respect, and a set of practical strategies that will help you to stop yourself from falling back into old habits. And of course, we will always be available for crisis intervention, should you ever need our support. We are here for you.
The cafeteria staff tell me that supper is ready, so let’s go eat. After the meal we’ll watch some Amnesty International videos, and then we’ll have an early “lights out” tonight, because tomorrow is going to be a long, hard day.
Let’s imagine that, somehow, Americans reached agreement that universal, single-payer health care is the way to go. How could it be implemented? Clearly, the transition would have to be managed in stages. It might seem logical to gradually lower the eligibility age for Medicare—say, five years of eligibility every twelve months. In the first year, 60-year-olds would be eligible; in the second year, 55-year-olds; and so on.
It makes more sense, however, to start with the children. Shouldn’t the health of our children be our first priority? And aren’t families with young children the people most in need of affordable health care? The problem, however, is that taking the youngest people out of the private health insurance pool would make it impossible to cover the expenses of older Americans without enormous premium increases.
The solution, it seems to me, is to move people into Medicare from both ends of the age spectrum, so that the balance of people left in the private system—younger, healthier people and older people with more medical expenses—remains about where it is now. In that way we could both give children first priority, and avoid a huge spike in insurance premiums for those still in the private system.
Imagine a transition something like this:
|Year||Medicare for everyone ages . . .|
In the first year, families with young children would immediately benefit. Those who already had health insurance would save money by removing their children from their policies, and those without insurance, or whose insurance included high deductibles and co-pays, would be able to take their children to the doctor without worrying about what it would cost. Both the finances and the health of working families would improve dramatically.
In the second year, people ages 60-64 would become eligible for Medicare. Every year thereafter, another group would be added, alternating between younger and older. Making the transition in this gradually like this would allow all the legal and bureaucratic and financial changes time to take place in an orderly way, and would give the private insurance companies time to move into other products. With experience, better arrangements would be discovered, and adjustments made. Companies providing insurance to their employees would have time to plan and implement the transition to the day when everyone would be covered by Medicare.
If the process began in 2020, then by 2030 every American would be covered by Medicare, and the United States would finally have caught up to the rest of the developed nations by providing health care to every citizen, with the costs borne by everyone through an equitable system of taxation—a non-profit, universal health insurance system that would benefit all of us, instead of filling the accounts of behemoth insurance companies with billions in profits, while leaving ordinary people scraping to pay medical bills, putting off medical care to save money, and fearing financial ruin should we suffer a major illness or injury.
I say, let’s do it.
If you ask Chinese people to compare traditional Chinese medicine with Western medicine, they will say that Western medicine is very strong and works quickly, while Chinese medicine is gentle and works slowly. Western medicine works quickly, but it only treats symptoms; Chinese medicine aims to restore health to the body by addressing the weakness or imbalance that caused the illness in the first place. The Chinese people I know will use both Western medicine and Chinese medicine, often in combination, depending on the situation. They know that Western medicine will quickly treat the immediate problem and allow them to continue with their daily lives, but that without restoring balance they will fall ill again and again.
Yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Paris reminded me of how Westerners, and Americans especially, treat political problems in the same way they treat medical problems, and with similar results: temporary relief, followed by repeated bouts of illness. Terrorists bent on mass murder resemble a serious infection that must be treated quickly, with strong and effective medicine, or perhaps even surgery. If we do not consider the causes of these infections, however, and address the causes at the same time we respond to the immediate crisis, then we condemn ourselves to chronic illness. And that is what I see today.
As an example, consider a different chronic political illness in the United States: racism. The white majority generally ignores this issue until a crisis brings their attention once again to the daily injustices experienced by people of color in America. Responses to the crisis vary, but are invariably short-term and focused on the immediate situation. Most white Americans prefer to ignore the obvious truth—that racial politics in the U.S. have deep roots in our history, and that the unaddressed consequences of that history continue to poison us. Poverty, discrimination, educational disparities, social injustice, and injustices in the legal system continue to blight the lives of many Americans of color. Until those deep causes are dealt with, along with the racism that continues to linger in white America, sometimes overtly but more often under the surface, we will suffer periodic crises, as we have seen in recent years when police violence against African-Americans have provoked outraged protests. Predictably, however, those crises have been short-lived, and once the situation calms down we return to business as usual. So long as there are no riots or mass demonstrations in Baltimore or Ferguson or Philadelphia, most white Americans turn their attention elsewhere. We are like chronically ill people who, in between trips to the doctor’s office or the emergency room, continue the unhealthy eating and living habits that cause our debilitation. We will continue to suffer until we address the root causes of our national illness.
America’s racial differences tend to disappear when it comes to foreign policy. There, too, however, we are behaving like diabetes patients bingeing on candy bars between trips to the ER. Why do we not smarten up, and start looking for the causes of terrorism? Because we love our candy bars, and we don’t want to give them up. Our foreign policy addictions, since the end of World War II, have centered on three simplistic ideas: opposition to Russia and communists everywhere; promotion of American corporations in foreign countries; and the imperative to acquire and secure access to massive amounts of petroleum resources. Our obsession with these aims have blinded us to numerous, repeated acts of gross injustice that we, our allies, and our intelligence services have committed around the world. Any foreign leader or movement or government that threatened or seemed to threaten these aims became our enemy. Any foreign leader or movement or government that opposed communism and welcomed American corporations and sold us oil became our friends, no matter how many horrific crimes they may have committed against their own people in the process. The list of democratically-elected leaders we have conspired to assassinate or overthrow, and of dictators and oppressive regimes we have supported, and continue to support, is too long to repeat here. If you are one of the far too many Americans who are unfamiliar with this history, it is a few clicks away in your favorite search engine. However, the people who have suffered around the world as a result of America’s foreign policies know this history very well. They know, too, that it continues today. And a very small fraction of them are radicalized by this knowledge, and become terrorists.
In the short term, we must do whatever we can to find those people who are determined to commit mass murder, and stop them. Longer-term, however, we will never rid ourselves of terrorism until we attend to its root causes. The U.S. government must shed its obsessive fear of left-wing ideology, must end its unthinking support of corporate profits at any cost, and must end its marriage with Big Oil. In the place of these misguided and failed attachments that have caused so much suffering, it must dedicate itself to peace and justice and real democracy, even when peace and justice and democracy bring to power leaders and movements that do not love Exxon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who may call themselves socialists, and who are not VIP customers of the U.S. arms industry.