Saturday, July 02, 2011

About the Flotilla

Why a risky and seemingly futile effort is worth it.
However improbable as it might presently seem, strategies such as the flotilla, the BDS movement and other forms of militant non-violent resistance do have a chance for defeating the strategy of violence and large-scale imprisonment that has long defined Israeli rule in the Occupied Territories. Just as I write these lines, Haaretz newspaper is reporting that the IDF has admitted that it has "no way to stop mass non-violent protests in the West Bank". And mass here means merely several thousand protesters, nothing like the hundreds of thousands of people necessary to bring down Ben Ali and Mubarak.

According to one IDF official: "A non-violent protest of 4,000 people or more, even if they only march to a checkpoint or a settlement, and especially if the Palestinian police do not deter them, will be
unstoppable." We could similarly imagine the impossibility of stopping the next flotilla if it grows to dozens of boats, or even hundreds.

When coupled with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's warning that if Palestinians give up the two-state idea and simply demand Israeli passports, Israel will have no choice but to choose between rank apartheid and becoming a true non-sectarian democracy, the way forward to achieving real peace, justice and democracy becomes clear.
(empahsis added)

Israel may claim to be a civilized and democratic nation but its continued occupation and violence against Palestinians belies those claims.

Among the many risking life and liberty on this mission are Veterans For Peace members retired Colonel Ann Wright; former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern; retired Marine Corps Major, Ken Mayers; Nic Abramson and Hedy Epstein, an Honorary VFP member and 87 year-old Holocaust survivor. I am proud to stand with them in their effort.


Friday, July 01, 2011

To Our Friends Up North

Happy Canada Day.


Monday, June 27, 2011

A Point in Time

Friday evening Maggie and I went to hear Melissa Harris-Perry, columnist for The Nation and commentator on MSNBC speak in Aberdeen, Washington which is about 60 miles west of Olympia. Aberdeen is a hard up former logging and industrial town so hearing a progressive speaker of Harris-Perry's caliber in such a setting is surprising to say the least.

Dinner in Aberdeen was an experience of making do with what you find. We had planned to grab a pizza at one of the locations shown on MapQuest of our route into Aberdeen. The only one still extant turned out to be a Quik Mart with a pizza oven. But the oven was real and the place smelled like a pizzeria so we got a take out and ate on the tailgate of the truck in the parking lot at Aberdeen High School, the evening's venue. The pizza was fine even if its provenance was unlikely.

Harris-Perry spoke to about 100 people in the high school auditorium. She noted some very real and positive achievements of the Obama administration along with its notable failures and omissions. But the words that resonated with me were "the struggle continues", which she said was how her father signed her birthday cards as she was growing up. She reminded me that it is unrealistic to expect to live in some perfect world where all problems are resolved. And as frustrating as it is to have to keep fighting for justice, Harris-Perry noted that the struggle is a never-ending one, that my efforts--however ineffective they may seem at the moment--are part of that never ending struggle.

I left with a much renewed sense of purpose. Harris-Perry helped me realize that that I am part of a chain that links back the earliest efforts against tyranny and slavery. I may not live to see the justice I wish for but I know that I have lived to make it happen.

Not bad for an evening in a hardscrabble town.


Sunday, June 26, 2011


In its report on the Congressional vote on the Libyan aerial war, the Washington Post asks how should the national debt affect a foreign policy built on the idea of America “bearing any burden” for freedom? In 1961 John Kennedy could make this commitment with confidence. Not only was the United States the richest and most prosperous nation in history but the American people were convinced that a totalitarian foe was about to overcome us. The rhetoric of freedom unified Americans in the face of our most existential fears.

For all its soaring elegance, Kennedy’s rhetoric was hardly new; the nation had already borne a number of burdens for freedom. World War II, the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan were all part of most Americans’ living memory. In the decade prior to Kennedy’s election, the US took on other burdens in the name of freedom. At least, freedom was what we were told was the reason even as US policy and operations became more about economic influence and control than actual democracy, freedom, or economic and social justice.

America’s infatuation with foreign freedom has existed since the nation’s birth. As the world’s first mass (in the context of its time) democracy, many Americans thought the US should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the revolutionary France (also our Revolutionary War ally), Central and South American independence movements of the early 19th century, and the European revolutions of 1848 but nothing came of any of that rhetoric. In the anti-Communist 1950’s, we talked of rolling back Communism in the name of freedom but never acted on those words. We knew our limits.

In 1961 Kennedy could plausibly commit to any burden. Given the perceived Soviet threat, he could do nothing less. His gift was to present that commitment in soaring rhetoric that appealed to Americans’ sense of history and purpose. But that rhetoric has locked his successors into a policy straitjacket, one that demands bearing burdens for freedom. No president can be perceived as weakening America’s freedom in the face of a foreign threat. That straitjacket constrains any president who might question the value of permanent war and military expenditure (Obama maybe, someday) and offers great license to those who believe in the eternal American Century (Cheney/Bush). Combined with an actual attack such as 9-11, the “bear any burden” rhetoric is highly appealing. That’s the genesis and about the last remaining support (along with “support our troops”) for America’s continuing wars.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s fine words, we are beginning to look at the military tab and wonder if the costs are worth it. Much of it has gone for dubious purposes, from supporting authoritarian regimes to failed weapons systems, little of it actually supporting anything that I would call freedom, which for most Americans means personal liberty and autonomy. The need for an overarching military power to counter the Soviet Union no longer exists (actually, the need was never as great as presented; see “missile gap”). These days the greatest threats to America arise from the rise of real economic competition, economic disparity and resource scarcity compounded by climate change. A worldwide military presence will not protect America from these threats.

When I hear the words “bear any burden” these days, I think of America realistically supporting economic and social justice, domestically and internationally. America is no longer the economic superpower it was when Kennedy spoke but, even diminished, America is a very, very rich nation. That wealth comes with the obligation to share, to assist others in attaining a secure life blessed by personal liberty and autonomy. That same thinking also leads me to look to America’s (and the world’s) wealthiest to share as well.

Today’s world offers plenty of burdens to be borne in the name of freedom. As one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, America has an important role to play in the name of freedom. Unlike 1961that role is neither exclusively American nor is it exclusively military.

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