Saturday, May 31, 2008

Russell Targ's New Autobiography, by Jeffrey Mishlove

I have been a student and a contributor to the field of parapsychology for the last 35 years. And, it is with good authority that I highly recommend all of the books by Russell Targ -- for two simple reasons. First, Russell Targ is a very clear thinker. He expresses his thoughts easily and with great clarity (and wit!). Second, and I believe of even greater importance, Russell Targ is one of the most experienced and successful parapsychology researchers of the last fifty years. He writes from the perspective of an insider's insider. And, I regard all that he has to say to be of great importance to anyone trying to understand this very tricky field. In addition -- and this is particularly relevant to Do You See What I See? -- Russell, himself, has been on a path of personal transformation. This book is especially lucid in terms of integrating modern, scientific ideas with thought from Hindu and Buddhist teachings. Because it is autobiographical, this is the most wide-ranging of all of Targ's books. It is also the most personal. For anyone interested in the human story behind the career of a great parapsychology researcher (not to mention laser physicist), this book is a must read.

A Philosophical Challenge, by Crispin Sartwell

My irritating yet astounding new book Against the State (SUNY Press) argues that all the arguments of the great philosophers (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Hegel, Rawls, Nozick, and Habermas, among others), are, putting it kindly, unsound. The state rests on violence: not the consent of the governed, not utility, not rational decision-making, not justice. Not only are the existing arguments for the legitimacy of state power unsound; they are shockingly fallacious, a scandal, an embarrassment to the Western intellectual tradition.So I issue a challenge: Give a decent argument for the moral legitimacy of state power, or reconstruct one of the traditional arguments in the face of the refutations in Against the State. If you can't, you are rationally obliged to accept anarchism. I'd offer a huge cash prize, but I'm broke.Henceforward, if you continue to support or observe the authority of government, you are an evil, irrational cultist.You're an anarchist now, baby, until further notice.e-mail responses to Yours in anarchy, Crispin Sartwell You can pre-order from amazon, or actually get holt of it from suny press. Here's a video version of the challenge I am issuing to all comers to formulate a decent argument for the legitimacy of state power.

Meet South America's New Secessionists

From a Texan-Venezuelan to an Ecuadorian Giuliani By NIKOLAS KOZLOFF Having failed to halt the tide of South America’s Pink Tide, Washington is seeking to cultivate relationships with secessionist leaders in order to facilitate the breakup of countries which share left leaning governments. In Bolivia, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has explicitly supported demands of the political opposition for greater regional autonomy in the eastern section of the country and has funneled millions of dollars to the right. It’s an inflammatory move which has incited a diplomatic firestorm throughout the region. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, an important ally of the Morales government in La Paz, has said that his country will not stand for secession in Bolivia’s eastern lowland states. The stage now seems set for confrontation, as Bolivia's largest and richest state overwhelmingly backed a referendum calling for greater autonomy earlier this month. Chávez declared that his government has not meddled in the domestic affairs of other Latin American nations, but would do so if Bolivian states now seeking greater autonomy from Bolivia's central government push for total independence. On his weekend radio and television program, the Venezuelan leader blamed "oligarchs" and "fascists" in Bolivia for the unrest. "The CIA and its lackeys" aimed at seizing control of regional governments through illegal referendums, Chávez said, "but we will defeat that plan through integration, political union and ideological strength." News of the secession movement in Bolivia has alarmed the Venezuelan authorities. It’s not difficult to see why: in western Venezuela, the right wing opposition is pushing for greater autonomy from the central government. In response to the political crisis in Bolivia, Chávez likened opposition efforts to win control of states near Venezuela's border with Colombia to "separatist" moves in the impoverished Andean nation to the south. With secession rapidly turning into a worrisome political dilemma for regional governments, right wing opposition figures are now coming to the fore. Who are these secession leaders who wish to derail South America’s Pink Tide? A Texan Venezuelan With the largest inland lake in Latin America, the most fertile land and 40 percent of Venezuela's oil production, the western state of Zulia and its capital Maracaibo may rightly claim to be the country's productive backbone. Zulia has always thought of itself as the Texas of Venezuela -- a land dominated by oil, cattle and predominantly conservative politicians. It is the country’s most affluent and populous state. Local residents have long taken pride in zulianidad - a state identity based loosely on Caribbean food and hospitality, a local musical genre known as gaita, and the syncretic Christian practices that dominate local religious life, chief among them worship of the "Black Christ" housed in Maracaibo's cathedral. In the twentieth century some “Zulianos” sought greater autonomy from the central government. Historical documents in the Public Records Office of Kew Gardens in London suggest that U.S. oil companies have been embroiled in secession plots (for more on this murky history, see my earlier Counterpunch articles on Zulia secession). Currently, the most high profile politician pushing for greater Zulia autonomy is Manuel Rosales. Born in 1952, Rosales began his political career in the 1970s as a local member of the city council in the town of Santa Barbara del Zulia. A teacher, Rosales rose through the ranks of Acción Democrática, one of the two corrupt parties that dominated Venezuelan political life in the twentieth century. Rosales went on to be elected mayor of Maracaibo and formed his own party, A New Time. An implacable foe of Hugo Chávez, Rosales went on to be elected Zulia governor in 2000. Even as Chávez and his followers racked up one electoral victory after the next, Rosales defied conventional political wisdom by winning reelection in 2004. “I Made a Mistake in Good Faith” A politician who defines himself as a believer in freedom and social justice, Rosales nevertheless supported the U.S.-supported 2002 coup against Chávez. Rosales was a signatory to the infamous “Carmona Decree” dissolving Venezuela’s democratic institutions. He later claimed, unconvincingly, that he had made a mistake “in good faith.” At the time he signed the decree, Rosales argued, it appeared as if Chávez had voluntarily resigned from the presidency amidst urban confusion and gun battles erupting in the streets of Caracas. In December, 2006 Rosales ran against Chávez in the presidential election. Though he received support from the middle class opposition he went down to bitter defeat, losing by some 25 percentage points. The campaign unfolded amidst a climate of intrigue, as Chávez accused Rosales and the U.S. of promoting Zulia’s political independence and having ties with Rumbo Propio (or “Own Way”), a group which supported Zulia separatism. Néstor Suárez, an anti-Chávez figure who opposed the government’s social programs in favor of “liberal economics,” led the right wing organization. Though Chávez has failed to prove that Rosales had any link to secessionist plots launched by the likes of the U.S. or Rumbo Propio, the Zulia governor has cultivated close ties to the U.S. since his electoral defeat in 2006. Last year, prior to Venezuela’s vote on a constitutional referendum, Rosales went to Washington to meet with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon. Rosales urged the U.S. to press Chávez to slow his constitutional overhaul plan which would have accelerated the government’s progressive social agenda and abolished presidential term limits. Ratcheting up the pressure yet further on Chávez, Rosales now says that he favors some degree of regional autonomy for Zulia. The Zulia governor has said that he favors greater independence from Caracas on the grounds that the government intends to take power away from states and municipalities, and “centralize everything.” Rosales’s statements come in the wake of a renewed autonomy push by New Time state legislators. In early May, they proposed a feasibility study for potential autonomy from the federal government which they compared to the autonomy efforts in Bolivia’s wealthy province of Santa Cruz. In response to the inflammatory moves by Rosales’ party, Chávez supporters have lashed back. “We legislators categorically reject this separatist, secessionist proposal of the state because it goes against our values and the integral development of the country,” said José Luis Acosta, a pro-Chávez state legislator from Zulia. Acosta added that “We, with the law, with the People in the street, and with the armed forces, will put up a fight.” “I Need to Urinate On You” Venezuela is not the only country facing an internal secessionist movement. In Ecuador, the right opposition to President Rafael Correa is coalescing around Jaime Nebot, the mayor of the coastal city of Guayaquil. Affiliated to the country’s Social Christian Party, Nebot ran twice for the Presidency, in 1992 and 1996. During his second presidential bid, Nebot ran on a pro-business platform stressing privatization of public services. Born into a prominent Guayaquil family, Nebot entered politics in 1984 when President Leon Febres-Cordero appointed the ambitious young man Governor of Guayas province, the district encompassing Guayaquil. Nebot’s association with Febres-Cordero, a key ally of Ronald Reagan at the time, is not flattering. As I explain in my new book, Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan), torture and killing by the military as well as disappearances and arbitrary arrests multiplied in Ecuador during this unfortunate period of the country’s political history. Later, Nebot rose to national prominence when he won a seat in Congress on the Social Christian Party slate. While serving in Congress, Nebot became known for his colorful and tasteless outbursts. In August, 1990 Nebot, visibly agitated, began yelling hysterically at a fellow congressman, Víctor Granda of the Socialist Party. "Come here so I can urinate on you," Nebot shouted memorably at Granda. "I can't just hit you. I have to urinate on you." Police had to physically intervene to stop Nebot from physically assaulting his adversary. The incident was caught on Ecuadoran national TV and has been preserved for posterity on YouTube. Ecuador’s Giuliani In 2000 Nebot was elected Mayor of Guayaquil where he pursued a conservative, pro-business agenda emphasizing gentrification and crime busting (he was reelected in 2004 to another four year term). In his zealous drive to emulate tough guy Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Nebot contracted former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton to help shape the city's urban regeneration strategy in 2002. Nebot flew Bratton in from the United States, paying him an enormous sum of money for just three days of work. Bratton proposed an overhaul of Guayaquil's anti-crime structure which later became known as "Plan Bratton.” The New York cop’s anti-crime structure has formed part and parcel of the city’s regeneration plan, which has turned Guayaquil into a kind of dystopian urban nightmare. In the new Guayaquil, urban “undesirables” found working in gentrified areas face tough penalties: beggars and itinerant vendors may be imprisoned for up to seven days and fines can reach as high as $500. “Just Like Miami” A newly constructed boardwalk called the Malecón 2000 is praised by many local residents as being “just like Miami.” However, indigenous street vendors do not fit into this ideal and there have been ongoing efforts to remove them from cleaned up urban spaces. In an excellent and thorough recent scholarly article, University of Glasgow geographer Kate Swanson described the contours of Nebot’s social policy. The boulevard, she writes, “is monitored by heavily armed police who individually assess who can enter the gated grounds and who cannot. Within the regenerated area, there are now at least 52 police-operated video cameras running 24 hours a day. This municipal gaze is not only concerned with crime control; rather, a key function of the cameras is to monitor the regenerated areas for the occupation of public space—particularly by informal workers.” The Malecón, which lies adjacent to the Guayas River, is totally manicured and sanitized. Pedestrians may lounge in cafes and gardens, sit on benches or even eat in a local McDonald’s. “Yet,” notes Swanson, “this too is guarded and monitored by heavily armed police during all opening hours. The gates close at midnight to prevent undesirables from sneaking in and spending the night. This boardwalk was designed with tourists and Guayaquil's upper-middle classes in mind.” According to Swanson, there’s been much criticism of the social impacts of Nebot’s revitalization projects. In fact, she notes, newspaper articles have been replete with complaints by informal workers denouncing police harassment. In 2003 alone, the media reported 10 cases of excessive police force in Guayaquil, many of which were captured on film. At night, informal workers are not allowed to pass into revitalized areas of the city, and the streets are patrolled by truckloads of young, heavily armed police officers. Nebot to Correa: “We Refuse to Be Guinea Pigs” Having failed in his presidential ambitions, Nebot is now seeking to capitalize on secessionist sentiment in Guayas, the nation’s most affluent province. The populous, agricultural region contributes a huge share of money to the central government and is rich in natural resources. Banana, cocoa, rice, sugar cane, cotton, tropical flowers and fruits are grown there, both for domestic consumption and export. There is a fishing industry, focused mainly on tuna and on shrimp farming, and food, cement, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. What’s more, Guayaquil is the nation’s largest port. If Guayas were to ever secede from Ecuador, such a move would prove economically devastating for the country. Nebot however is determined to turn up the pressure on Correa, saying that the government needs to stop its “socialist project” before the country cracks up. Nebot and his followers argue that Correa’s desire to reform the country’s constitution is aimed at making the President a “Chávez-style” dictator. In January, 2008 Nebot led a march of tens of thousands through Guayaquil’s streets in the name of defending the city’s autonomy from Correa’s plans for further centralization. Supporters waved the city's blue and white flag and chanted "Long live Guayaquil, dammit," and "Down with Correa." "As long as you are alive and I am alive, he will never push us around," Nebot shouted to the crowd. "We will not be guinea pigs of a failed experiment." An estimated 150,000-200,000 people attended the protest, around double the number who joined a government-sponsored march in Guayaquil a week earlier to mark the Correa government’s first anniversary in power. Meet Rubén Costas: Bolivia’s Secessionist Fair skinned and European looking, Rubén Costas hardly resembles Bolivia’s indigenous president Evo Morales. Elected Prefect of the western department of Santa Cruz in 2005, Costas has become a key advocate for greater regional autonomy and a thorn in the side of the government in La Paz. Following Costas’ election, the right opposition escalated its pressure on the Morales government, organizing protests in the city of Sucre against the President’s proposed Constitution which would have given the country’s indigenous majority a greater say in political decision making. When clashes erupted which resulted in the deaths of three demonstrators and a policeman, Costas pounced by calling for a 24-hour business strike. An advocate for powerful business interests, Costas was also one of the right wing politicians who called for a referendum on Santa Cruz autonomy earlier this month. Prior to the referendum, Costas remarked hopefully that the departments of Tarija, Pando and Benin would join Santa Cruz in its drive for autonomy and “a second Bolivia will be created.” On the eve of the referendum vote, Costas assured Bolivians that there would be no violence. At a rally, he announced “We don't want dynamite, nor clubs, nor rancor. The democratic vote is our only weapon." Predictably however, Election Day was marked by violent clashes between government supporters opposed to the autonomy statute -- mainly indigenous migrants from Bolivia’s impoverished western highlands provinces -- and members of the rightwing Santa Cruz Youth Union. As a result of the May referendum, the stage is now set for irrevocable future conflict: 85% of the residents of Santa Cruz voted for autonomy. As part of the referendum Costas himself will take over as Governor of the department, though Morales has called the vote illegal and nonbinding. Making further mischief, Santa Cruz leaders have pledged to withhold levies paid by energy companies operating in the area. Santa Cruz, Guayas, and Zulia: What Do They Have in Common? Like Guayas and Zulia, affluent provinces in Ecuador and Venezuela respectively, Santa Cruz is the richest department in Bolivia. Bolivia’s eastern departments account for most of the country’s natural gas production, industry and gross domestic product. Like Chávez, who is worried that Zulia secession would lead to a cutoff of oil revenue, Morales can ill afford secession in the east: Bolivia is South America’s poorest country and desperately needs proceeds from the gas industry. There’s a racial and political dimension to these conflicts too. In Ecuador, it is Nebot and the predominantly white and mestizo coastal elite which seek to secede from the Indian highlands. In the small Andean nation, it’s the Indians who are pushing radical social change, whereas whites and mestizos on the coast fear the rise of socialism. In Bolivia, there’s a similar dynamic at work: Morales’s indigenous supporters in the highlands constitute the radical political vanguard which are increasingly at odds with whites and mestizos in the lowlands. In Santa Cruz, the elite fears Morales’ plans to promote land reform and to capture greater energy revenue for the central state. The similarities between these secessionist movements are not lost on the region’s leaders. Javier Zárata, the Bolivian Ambassador to Ecuador, recently remarked that“what is occurring in Bolivia is not an isolated action.” “I know there have been coordination meetings last year and the year before among representatives from Santa Cruz and representatives of Guayaquil, and other states of other countries,” the diplomat added. Speaking on his weekly radio show, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said that “oligarchical and separatist” Bolivians were trying to destabilize the Morales government. Correa remarked that regional governments would not stand for secessionist movements in Santa Cruz, Zulia and Guayas. Elites in all three countries, Correa declared, sought to roll back progressive social change “so as to continue with imperialistic and neo-liberal policies.” Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan)

Roslyn Zinn, 85; blended social activism with the arts

Roslyn Zinn, with her husband, Howard, a historian, author, and activist.
By Bryan Marquard May 21, 2008 The dunes overlooking Wellfleet's shore, a terrain Roslyn Zinn revered during summer visits, glow in one of her paintings with a singular warmth, as if she perceived the landscape more deeply than any seasonal pilgrim. "After years as a teacher and social worker, I turned seriously to painting, which throughout my life had sparked and enlivened my spirit," Ms. Zinn wrote in a brief introduction to "Painting Life," a collection of her work that was published last year, a few months after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. "What I see in the world, so burdened and troubled, and yet beautiful in nature and in the human form, impels me to seek to create images that give the possibility of hope." A glorious spray of tulips, the gentle curve of an unclothed hip, the deep smile lines etched around her husband's mouth - Ms. Zinn's brush found in each of her subjects a sense of serenity and promise. And those same qualities, present in her along with a radiant delight in life, impressed those she met her during her long marriage to historian Howard Zinn as they walked arm in arm in marches protesting wars from Vietnam to Iraq. Ms. Zinn, who was always the first and most important reader of her husband's many books and essays, died May 14 in their home in the Auburndale village of Newton. She was 85 and had continued to climb the stairs to her studio and paint until the last days of her life. "She was a passionate person, passionately committed to the causes of peace and justice, and she was anguished by what was happening in the world," her husband said. "At the same time, she was a very sunny, happy, warm person." "The woman exuded love and openness," said James Carroll, an author and columnist for the Globe's opinion pages and a friend of the Zinns. "I felt it, but everyone who met her felt it. She was just an affirming person." He added: "Radical politics could be intimidating and frightening because the questions are so hard, but Roz Zinn made it all seem like the most natural thing in the world to ask the tough questions. She took the threat away." Blending the arts with activism, Ms. Zinn worked for many years as a social worker and was an actor and musician. While her husband rose to prominence as a writer and a professor at Boston University, hers was the unseen hand shaping sentences that inspired his readers and students. "I never showed my work to anyone except her, because she was such a fine editor," he said. "She had such a sensibility about what worked, what read well, what was necessary, what was redundant." One of six children of a Polish immigrant family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Roslyn Shechter read avidly and had already shown promise in high school as a writer and editor before meeting Howard Zinn. They dated briefly, then courted through a lengthy correspondence as he was sent to training bases with the US Army Air Corps. Four days into his first furlough, they married in October 1944. She raised their two children in a low-income housing project in New York City's Lower East Side after the war and worked for a publishing company while her husband attended graduate school. When he took a teaching job at Spelman College in Atlanta in the late 1950s during the nascent days of the civil rights movement, she was the only white actor on the stage in some productions of the Atlanta-Morehouse-Spelman Players. "For 'The King and I,' they wanted a white woman and asked her to do that," her husband said. "White people came to see it and were taken aback. There was an actual gasp in the audience when the black King of Siam put his arm around her waist to dance. Atlanta in 1959 was like Johannesburg, South Africa, it was so rigidly segregated." Moving to Boston when her husband began teaching at BU, she finished her undergraduate work through Goddard College's adult degree program. Ms. Zinn took courses at BU's School of Social Work and then worked with the elderly in East Boston and with young clients in Dorchester and Roxbury. Throughout, she kept a hand in the arts, whether playing recorder with a group in Cambridge or as an appreciative audience member. "Usually, when I would see her, it was after a show, and she was just always beaming, always engaged in the moment," said the comedian Jimmy Tingle. "I'm sure there were nights when I came off stage and it wasn't that great, but she would never let on. She would say, 'That was fantastic!' She gave you great validation." Retiring 20 years ago, Ms. Zinn turned to painting, and tried a number of different styles. She showed her paintings in some venues, and often gave them away to nonprofits. But many friends didn't realize the scope of her accomplishments until an exhibition in Wellfleet a couple of years ago. "I was awestruck by the body of work and the range," said Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a longtime friend and former neighbor. "I had no idea she had produced that much. It was only then that I realized what a brilliant artist she was." Diagnosed with cancer last summer, Ms. Zinn "wrote me and said in effect that she was going to live as normally as possible as long as she could, and that meant visiting with her family, including her grandchildren, and painting and reading poetry," said Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and peace activist. "She was going to be in charge of her life, instead of giving it over to the medical profession." Howard Zinn said that after the diagnosis, they went to their summer home in Wellfleet, where "she swam twice a day and announced it was the best summer of her life." "She seemed to elevate to some place of profound contentment," Carlsson-Paige said. "Roz was always a content person, but she has been supremely happy. I've never seen her sad. I've seen her cherishing every moment, every experience she had, every rainstorm." Two weeks before Ms. Zinn died, she told Carlsson-Paige during a visit that she had just finished two paintings. In one, Ms. Zinn sensed a need for something more. "She said, 'I had to put an apple in it,' which I saw - it's this beautiful yellow apple," said Carlsson-Paige, who asked her friend whether she was pleased with the paintings. "And she said, 'Oh, I'm very happy with them.' She was just completely joyful." In addition to her husband, Ms. Zinn leaves a daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington; a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three brothers, Ben, Saul, and Carl Shechter, all of Pembroke Pines, Fla.; three granddaughters; and two grandsons. Services will be private.

Friday, May 30, 2008



“Whence come we? What are we? Whither are we going?” Gaugin titled one of his paintings.



What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

–Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was 49 when he published that poem, back in the True-Man era. He’d seen some ups, and he’d seen a lot of downs, born soon after the War to End All Wars, growing up “Negro” in the crime-roaring twenties, and the soul-deep Depression. He’d seen the Labor Movement crushed by hired corporate guns and goons, and government of the mighty by the mighty saved by the “traitor to his class”—who was no traitor to his class! … He’d seen another War to End All Wars and the holocausts of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dachau, and the beginning, of a “Cold War”–that was no Cold War!

And he’d seen a people put their dreams on hold. A “Negro” people, an American people; and the poor and powerless and disenfranchised all over the world—war-weary, war-devastated, hard-laboring, peace-craving, hungry, disenchanted, confused by the cascading changes, searching, questioning, truth-seeking light in their leaders—and holding fast to their dreams: the old dreams of peace, equality of opportunity–and equality before the law; fairness—a New Deal, a Fair Deal; the dream of the promise of technology to eradicate poverty, to expand human horizons to the zenith of our best understanding; the dream of social progress in our families, our communities—and in our shared humanity.

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—and then run?”

We are nearly 3 generations removed from the publication of Hughes’ poem. We’ve had some ups—and a lot more downs. We’ve seen the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness, as Alan Ginsberg put it. The madness of materialism—owning things, possessing things, caressing things in a world of shrinking resources, “peak oil,” water shortages, food riots. We’ve seen the promise of technology pollute our rivers, our lakes, even the fathomless seas, and the air we and our children breathe. We’ve been confused by the cascading changes, future-shocked by the rate of change–the unbearable lightness of our being–and we wonder where to stand, and how to hold on to this fiercely spinning globe.

And we hold fast to the old dreams of honor and even “noblesse oblige”; and we hold fast to the new dreams of democracy, freedom and fair play. We seek the light of truth in our leaders; we petition; we vote—because we hold to our dreams, and we have been told, we have been taught, we have been trained—this is the way. We are peace-craving. We do not want conflict. The average man and woman eschews conflict.

We petition. We march. We shout, “Not in our name! Not in our name! Not in our name!” And our leader smirks, he chuckles, his shoulders shake. “Isn’t freedom wonderful?” he says. And the bombing begins. And the holocaust continues. Six years now. One million dead. Millions more wounded, raped, crippled, torn physically, mentally, spiritually.

“Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet. Maybe it just sags like a heavy load … Or does it explode?”

We gather here—and in towns and villages, suburbs and cities all over this land–to ponder Hughes’ mighty question—to share the burden of our dreams, to challenge our dreams: have they been beacons, or have they misled us? This American Dream that Henry Miller back in 1945 called “an air-conditioned nightmare”—where is it taking our world—this shrinking, wounded globe we share with hungry billions—what healing vision can we offer? We who traveled first into the future—where did we stumble, where did we lose our way? And can we help each other now? Can we put aside the territoriality of ideas, the preciousness of ideology and find the thread out of the maze?

These are mythic times—and we have been like the explorer Theseus, wandering through the labyrinth, lost in a hall of mirrors in which we have had to confront ourselves, our worst fears, and, ultimately, the child-devouring demon, that half-beast, half-man Minotaur-monster that looks a little bit—bears an uncanny resemblance to–Dick Cheney! But is really much more than Dick Cheney—is really, the consummation of our dreams distorted—dreams of comfort and ease and endless expansion on other people’s lands, using other people’s resources. And now, even as we confront the Beast, we ponder the way back. And we remember that the root of the word revolution is volvere, to turn, with the prefix re—back. And so we wonder how to get back to first, best principles—the best thoughts of our spiritual leaders: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” … ; “Follow the golden mean.” And we hold in our hands the secret of the way back: not a rope, not a cord, or spool of thread as the mythological Theseus, but a chain—every single link forged with understanding, courage, creativity and action.

Let us then learn from one another, for we have been Argonauts–travelers on a voyage of discovery, trying to determine our place amidst the light and the shadows. “Whence come we? What are we? Whither are we going?” Gaugin titled one of his paintings. Let us then listen and inspire.

We have many sharp analysts on the Left,– acute minds trained in dialectic; wonderful writers and thinkers who can present well-honed arguments; people armed with information, facts and figures; and we have humanists who see the bigger picture—We know how corporatism and militarism impact communities, and we can buttress the story with solid information to ameliorate and avoid the crises, to work towards building a new world. But, sometimes, we lose sight of the importance of the artist in conveying the message to the people most affected by these seismic changes; conveying that message in an emotional and unforgettable way—combining the best of what we think and what we feel.

“Poets,” Shelley told us, “are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” And he meant “poets” in the biggest sense—those who dare to dream: wordsmiths and painters, musicians and dancers, playwrights—and the man or woman working in wood, in clay, fashioning mind-heart rhythms into palpable essences, memorable, life-altering events: departures from the quotidian that make returning to our former states uncomfortable or impossible. “You must alter your life,” Rilke tells us at the end of his Apollo Belvedere poem. Creation is a constant challenging.

But we have been living through an Age of Brass. The great ferment of the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s has tasted like sour wine poured from old bottles, as our artists sat back and financialized their talents. The formulaic, the commercial established their domain over innovation, the politically and socially questioning and challenging. The Baby Boomers long ago boomed-out, and the generations that followed took the primrose path of co-optation, milked the golden calf long before the calf was ready, and the grantsmen came, and the university sinecures were offered to the complaisant and the facile and non-threatening.

For almost forty years we have wandered in this desert of non-art: art divorced from the life and concerns of “average” men and women. And because “artists” (artistes! Artists manque!) have turned their backs on the life and times of the people they should serve, they have, in turn, been shunned by the peanut-crunching crowd, the pop and popcorn consumers, the beer and bratwurst guzzlers, too tired to think, too numbed to feel.

But … great changes start at the edges. The first amphibian crawls out of the sea; a seed is planted, a corner-stone laid. In the fullness of time, “Gilgamesh” is written. Even today, artists are sounding the depths at the margins, going beneath the “dead zones” to where the fastest fish escape to jangle our nerves. From Java Monkey Café in Atlanta to the Cornelia Street Café and Yippie Museum in Manhattan; from slams in Chicago to private homes in D.C.; from soirees in the tony Berkeley Hills to coffee shops in Seattle, the tribes are gathering, polishing the old tales, spinning new ones.

We refuse to be quiet any longer. We refuse to numb ourselves to corporate crime, the military-industrial complex, the pollution of mainstream media, the theft of our ballots, the dumbing-down, the bastardization of our arts and culture. We are gathering and telling our stories. We are listening and painting and shaping the wood and inserting the grace notes. Poets are collaborating with composers and musicians. We no longer buy the tripe of “art for art’s sake.” We do not wait for the professors to sanction what we do. Politics is too important to be left to politicians. Politics is about power relationships and we demand to be part of the equation. Here, we are aided by new technologies: We can burn our own CD’s, we can publish our own books, market our wares on the web; and take down the Empire of greed and duplicity with every chalk drawing on the sidewalks of our cities.

We can explore new sounds, new ideas, new visions and new dreams together. We can explode some old myths—and lay the foundation for deeper truths—truths we have wrestled the angel to find: the chiseled truths of intellect, the perdurable truths of the heart.

Gary Corseri has published novels and poetry collections, had his dramas produced on Atlanta-PBS and elsewhere. An Arts and Culture editor at Cyrano’sJournalOnline, he has published/posted his work at hundreds of venues, including ThomasPaine’sCorner, CommonDreams, DissidentVoice, The New York Times, Village Voice, WorldProutAssembly, GlobalResearch and CounterPunch. He served as Arts Coordinator and co-organizer of the “Building a New World Conference” in Radford, Virginia, May 22-25 this year, where, with some modifications, he delivered the above talk as his welcoming remarks. He can be contacted at

Senate Moves Forward on Orwellian “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act”

by Tom Burghardt / May 15th, 2008 In the wake of Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins’ (R-ME) alarmist report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat,” the Senate may be moving towards passage of the Orwellian “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007″ (S. 1959). A companion piece of legislative flotsam to the House bill, “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007″ (H.R. 1955), the Democrat-controlled Congress seems ready to jettison Constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly. The bill passed the House by a 404-6 vote in October. Twenty-three congress members abstained, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. Under cover of studying “violent radicalization,” both bills would broaden the already-fluid definition of “terrorism” to encompass political activity and protest by dissident groups, effectively criminalizing civil disobedience and non-violent direct action by developing policies for “prevention, disruption and mitigation.” Call it COINTELPRO 2.0. Crafted by former House Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Jane Harman (D-CA), the legislation would create a domestic commission, a university-based “Center of Excellence” that would study and then, target domestic “radicalization” as a “threat” to the “homeland.” David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martin’s University who studies state surveillance and the harassment of dissident scholars, told Jessica Lee of New York’s Indypendent newspaper last year that Harman’s bill “is a shot over the bow of environmental activists, animal-rights activists, anti-globalization activists and scholars who are working in the Middle East who have views that go against the administration.” Evoking disquieting memories of political witchhunters ensconced in the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, the anti-radicalization commission would be empowered to “hold hearings and sit and act at such times and places, take such testimony, receive such evidence, and administer such oaths as the Commission considers advisable to carry out its duties.” With the power to subpoena and compel testimony from anyone, the commission would create the (intended) impression that a person forced to publicly testify before a congressionally mandated star chamber must be involved in “subversive” or illegal activities. According to Naomi Spencer, The commission would be composed of appointees, one chosen each respectively by Bush, Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, the Senate and House majority and minority leaders, and by the ranking majority and minority members of the two congressional homeland security committees. Such a selection process would certainly result in an extremely right-wing panel.1 When one considers that elite consensus favoring “muscular” strategies for fighting “terror”–homegrown or otherwise–emerge during a period when the Bush regime has illegally wiretapped phone calls, sifted e-mails, spied on political and religious organizations, and conducted extensive data mining of financial and other personal records, it becomes clear that the corporate police state is shifting into high-gear in a desperate move to criminalize ideological “thought crimes.” The intent of the proposed legislation, however, goes far beyond an academic exercise. According to Jessica Lee, Harman stated that “the National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent.” In the context of the post-Constitutional “New Normal” paradigm, Harman and her acolytes evoke images of Philip K. Dick’s Department of Precrime in his dystopian novella, The Minority Report. Only here, in the bizarro world of outsourced “homeland security,” mutant precogs are replaced by high-end–and taxpayer funded–data-miners, psychological profilers and social network analysts in the employ of dodgy security firms linked to America’s military-intelligence complex. The legislation specifically singles out the Internet as a “weapon” for domestic radicalization. When she introduced her bill to the Senate last November, Harman remarked, “There can be no doubt: the Internet is increasingly being used as a tool to reach and radicalize Americans and legal residents.” Equating America’s web-surfacing habits with the threat of ideological infection by Islamist pod-people, Harman avers that the Internet allows Americans “to become indoctrinated by extremists and to learn how to kill their neighbors … from the comfort of their own living rooms.” (Britney, Paris, better move over… there’s a new truck-bombing instructional posted over on YouTube! OMG!) Harman’s ludicrous pronouncement is considerably ramped-up by the Lieberman and Collins report, based on–what else– “expert testimony” during hearings held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Lieberman and Collins claim that, …the report assesses the federal government’s response to the spread of the violent Islamist message on the Internet and concludes that there is no cohesive and comprehensive outreach and communications strategy in place to confront this threat. The report does not discuss relevant classified tools and tactics employed by the law enforcement and intelligence communities, but does recognize that there is no plan to harness all possible resources including adopting new laws, encouraging and supporting law enforcement and the intelligence community at the local, state, and federal levels, and more aggressively implementing an outreach and counter-messaging campaign on the Internet and elsewhere. In other words, “independent” Democrat Lieberman and “maverick Republican” Collins are proposing new “tools” for regulating the Internet through a counter-propaganda campaign that would create “message force multipliers” that “support law enforcement” initiatives to crush the radical “threat.” By targeting the Internet, House and Senate thought police claim that “the Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.” But as the American Civil Liberties Union wrote last week, Experience has demonstrated that in the event of a terrorist attack, the results of this report will likely be used to recommend the use of racial, ethnic and religious profiling. This will only heighten, rather than decrease, the spread of extremist violence. As an organization dedicated to the principles of freedom of speech, we cannot in good conscience support this report or any measure that might lead to censorship and persecution based solely on one’s personal beliefs. The ACLU is concerned that identifying the Internet as a tool for terrorists will lead to censorship and regulated speech — especially since the Internet has become an essential communications and research tool for everyone. Indeed, some policy makers have advocated shutting down objectionable websites in violation of the First Amendment. It is an unworkable solution.2 Precisely. But wait, there’s more! Citing the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as “experts” in the area of “homegrown radicalism,” the report avers: After more than two years of research into homegrown terrorism cases in the United States and around the world, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) developed a model to explain how this core enlistment message, and the “jihadi-Salafi” ideology that provides the foundation for that message, drive the domestic radicalization process — transforming “unremarkable people” into terrorists. Perhaps Lieberman and Collins should have consulted the family of Sean Bell as to the NYPD’s “expertise” on analogous crime “modeling.” Murdered by trigger-happy cops after a bachelor party the morning of his wedding, Bell’s life was snuffed-out after he and his friends were shot some 50 times. The cops–surprise!–were recently found “not guilty” on all counts by a New York judge. We can dismiss senatorial allusions to NYPD’s acumen in the area of “counterterrorist analysis” with the contempt it deserves. But let’s be clear on one thing: the sole purpose of the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” is to target the American people’s constitutionally-protected right to say No. If the U.S. House and Senate care to examine the “root causes” of terrorism today, they need look no further than the on-going U.S. slaughter in Iraq–a “preemptive” war of choice to which they infamously gave their consent with eyes wide open. US House passes Democrat-crafted ‘homegrown terrorism prevention’ legislation,” World Socialist Web Site, 1 December 2007. # American Civil Liberties Union, “ACLU Skeptical of Senate Report on ‘Homegrown’ Terrorism,” Press Release, May 8, 2008. # Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly, Love & Rage and Antifa Forum, he is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

George Monbiot interview with Amy Goodman today...

AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, escaped a citizen’s arrest Wednesday night as he addressed an audience gathered at the Hay Festival in Wales. Security guards blocked the path of columnist and activist George Monbiot, who tried to make the arrest as Bolton left the stage. Monbiot planned the action, because he says Bolton is a war criminal for his role in helping to initiate the invasion of Iraq in 2003 while he served as US undersecretary of state for arms control.

George Monbiot joins us now on the phone from England. He is a widely read columnist for the Guardian of London and the author of numerous books. His latest is Bring On the Apocalypse: Collected Writing. Actually, he joins us now from Wales.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, George Monbiot.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Thanks very much, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us exactly what happened.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, I made my intention clear to perform a citizen’s arrest of John Bolton. I wrote a charge sheet detailing exactly the role that he had played in launching a war of aggression in violation of international treaties, which is a clear violation of the Nuremberg Principles. And I took a dossier of evidence down to the local police station. I asked them to act on it. But when they failed to arrest Mr. Bolton, I tried to arrest him myself, and I tried to get up onto the stage as he was leaving it. And I called out, “John Robert Bolton, I am arresting you for the charge of aggression, the crime of aggression, as defined by the Nuremberg Principles.” But I was caught by two very large security guards and pulled out of the venue very quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: How does a citizen’s arrest work?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, under an act of Parliament here, the Serious Organised [Crime and Police] Act, a citizen has the right to arrest anyone that they suspect to be guilty of a crime who would otherwise get away from the scene or escape without being arrested, and to hand that person over to the police. Now, there is a proviso which says that if—you can only act in this way if the police are unable to act to arrest this person. In this particular case, the police were able to act and had chosen not to do so. So, had I succeeded in arresting Mr. Bolton, I would have put myself on the wrong side of the law.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton has also been criticized for calling for US strikes on Iran. Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article, based solely on unnamed sources, suggesting the Lebanese group Hezbollah is training Iraqi militants inside Iran. Hours after the article was published, this is what John Bolton had to say on Fox News.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, George Monbiot?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. Well, John Bolton has the position that any and every country of which he disapproves should be attacked, and then we work out the justification for that attack later. He was one of the signatories of the letter sent by the Project for a New American Century to Bill Clinton in 1998, saying that we should attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. And he had one justification then, he had a different justification in 2003, he has a different justification today. It’s very clear that with Bolton, as with Bush, as with Cheney, as with Rumsfeld, the urge to go to war came first, and the justification came second.

Now, when you look at the main instruments of international law, you see very clearly that waging a preemptive war where you are not in an immediate crisis of self-defense is a crime against international law. In fact, the Nuremberg tribunals described it as the supreme international crime. And it was for that crime that most of the Nazi war criminals were convicted. And that is exactly the crime that Bolton has conspired in committing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened to Jose Bustani?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, Jose Bustani is a Brazilian diplomat who was head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And in 2002, Bustani offered a way out of the impasse between Iraq in the United States. He said, OK, Saddam Hussein won’t allow the UNMOVIC inspectors in, primarily because UNSCOM turned out to have been infiltrated by the CIA, and so the successor organization UNMOVIC was viewed with intense suspicion in Iraq. Bustani said, “I can solve this problem for you by bringing Saddam Hussein into the Chemical Weapons Convention and then launching inspections of my own in Iraq, and therefore we could have a peaceful resolution to this crisis.”

Immediately, the United States swung into action against him—the delegation led by John Bolton—and demanded his dismissal as director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, failed at first and then threatened to withhold all its dues and to destroy the organization altogether, whereupon the other nations, led by the United Kingdom, went along with the US delegation and agreed to sack Bustani.

Bustani later took his case to an international labor organization tribunal and was completely exonerated of all the complaints which the US had leveled against him. And the only one which seemed to remain was that he had tried to prevent war from being waged with Iraq. And so, far from seeking a negotiated settlement to the issue of the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, John Bolton ensured that anyone—Bustani’s attempt to ensure there was a negotiated settlement was, in Bolton’s word, “tanked.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, George Monbiot, where you go from here? You didn’t—were not able to arrest John Bolton in Wales. Did he know what you were attempting to do?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, he does. And he’s actually made a public statement concerning it. I would urge anyone who is in a position to do so to try to exercise a citizen’s arrest of any of the primary authors of the Iraq War. And I’m talking about Bush—that makes it very, very difficult, but it’s—there’s a higher chance obviously when he ceases to be president—Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bolton, and over here in the United Kingdom, Tony Blair and some of his cabinet ministers. And I certainly intend to try to carry out a citizen’s arrest of either Blair or one of the other senior architects of the war here in the United Kingdom.

And what I found from this instance was that even if you don’t succeed in carrying out the citizen’s arrest, you are able to focus a great deal of attention on the issue and to ensure that people do not forget. This is not an ordinary political mistake which was committed in Iraq. This was the supreme international crime, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Those people were not killed in the ordinary sense; they were murdered. And they were murdered by the authors of that war, who are the greatest mass murderers of the twenty-first century so far.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a columnist for the Guardian of London. His latest book is called Bring On the Apocalypse: Collected Writing.

Third parties vie for 2008 glory

by Travis Schulze As the Democratic race draws to a close, you might, like myself, be left feeling underwhelmed with your two choices for the next leader of our country. You should know they are not our only choices. Here are some other candidates for president of the United States. The Constitution Party will be represented in 2008 by Dr. Chuck Baldwin. His campaign centers on a return to the Constitution. He calls for an immediate withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq, all foreign military bases, the U.N., NATO and most international organizations. He wants extremely strict immigration laws, an end to trade with China and the elimination of the income tax, without a move to a consumption tax. The Libertarian Party chose former Republican Rep. Bob Barr as its candidate for president. Barr also calls for more strict interpretation of the Constitution and supports "America First" policy similar to Baldwin, except he focuses much more on the degradation of civil liberties. Frank McEnulty will represent the New American Independent Party in November. McEnulty, unlike most other third party candidates is not a candidate of extremes, but instead represents a moderate viewpoint on each issue, somewhere between the positions of the Republican and Democratic parties. He also calls for election reform. There are three socialist candidates this year. The Party for Socialism and Liberation will be represented by Gloria La Riva, the Socialist Party USA's candidate is Brian Moore and the Socialist Workers Party's nominee is Roger Colero. Although these three groups differ on how revolutionary change should come about, their candidates are running on similar platforms. They all call for an end to the Iraq War, while supporting strict environmental laws, freer immigration laws, reparations for slavery and full employment with a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The Green Party has not yet picked a candidate. Green Party candidates of the past have presented a "eco-social analysis and vision" for the U.S. The Green platform includes calls for a more sustainable economy, more environmental laws, higher federal budgets, demilitarization, social justice and gender equity. Greens also support the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The most famous of the third party candidates is most certainly Ralph Nader, who is running as an independent this year. He generally follows Green Party platform and among his "12 political issues that matter" he includes calls for the adoption of a single payer national health insurance, a cut of the military budget, a reversal of U.S. policy in the Middle Eastand an end to corporate personhood. The goal of Gene Amondson, the Prohibition Party's pick for president, is exactly what you think: a return to the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. He supports the Iraq War and calls for stricter marriage and divorce laws, more religion in schools, less public welfare and stricter immigration laws. Lastly, the National Socialist Party (Nazi) has a candidate in John Taylor Bowles. Billing himself as the "white people's candidate" he calls for an end to immigration, foreclosures and the outsourcing of American jobs. He supports free national health care and more environmental protection laws. Vote well.


“You form the fabric of your experience through your own beliefs and expectations. These personal ideas about yourself and the nature of reality will affect your thoughts and emotions. You take your beliefs about reality as truth, and often do not question them. They seem self-explanatory. They appear in your minds as statements of fact, far too obvious for examination.

Therefore they are accepted without question too often. They are not recognized as beliefs ABOUT reality, but instead considered characteristics of reality itself. Frequently such ideas appear indisputable, so a part of you that it does not occur to you to speculate about their validity. They become invisible assumptions, but they nevertheless color and form your personal experience.” - The Nature of Personal Reality, p. 16-17

full article:

Disturbing 2008 Global Peace Index Report - by Stephen Lendman

The Global Peace Index (GPI) was launched in May 2007 and claims to be the first study of its kind ranking nations according to their peacefulness. Last year's report covered 121 countries. The latest increased it to 140. Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea conceived the idea and won some dubious endorsements. Among them, the Dalai Lama. He served as a CIA asset from the late 1950s until 1974 and may again be in tow if the Bush administration's awarding him a Congressional Gold Medal last year and closeness to him now is an indication. Other endorsers include Jordan's Queen Noor; another member of her royal family; four members of the British House of Lords; Ted Turner; Virgin Group's Richard Branson; other business and community leaders; Australia's former Prime Minister JM Fraser; other former high-ranking government officials; academics; a former BBC war correspondent and MP; plus six Nobel Laureates, including Jimmy Carter. In fairness, a few distinguished names join them, including Helen Caldicott and economics professor James Galbraith. These organizations prepare GPI's report - The Economist Intelligence Unit, an international panel of peace experts from peace institutes and think tanks, and the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. Their stated purpose is to "highlight the relationship between Global Peace and Sustainability (stressing that) unless we can achieve" a peaceful world, humanity's major challenges won't be solved. No argument there, but does GPI's statement belie its real interest? GPI uses 24 indicators to rank nations according to their relative internal and external peacefulness. They include their: -- military expenditures as a percent of GDP and number of armed service personnel per 100,000 population; -- relations with other countries; -- respect for human rights; -- potential for terrorist acts; -- number of homicides per 100,000 population, including infanticide; -- level of violent crime; -- aggregate number of heavy weapons per 100,000 population and ease of access to small arms and light weapons; -- number of jailed population per 100,000 population; and -- number of internal security officers and police per 100,000 population. Conspicuously absent is a measure of outside influence causing internal violence, instability and/or disruption. Venezuela ranked an implausible 123rd behind America at 97th. Something is amiss, and the above rating raises suspicions that angered Venezuelan National Assemblyman Jose Albornos. He stated: "Sometimes things tip over into irrationality just like they're doing just now....(it's) part of a plan....there are sectors who decide that they want to get rid of Chavez, who have seen that they cannot (do it by) coup d'etat and are trying to penalize the whole country in a campaign of attrition." He then added that the 2008 GPI "doesn't correspond with the truth," and plenty of evidence backs him. It's examined below. By GPI's criteria, scoring Venezuela high and America lowest should be no-brainers. The US hands down is the world's most violent nation and primary reason for Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel's bottom rankings. The same holds for Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, the Philippines and a host of other nations. By comparison, Venezuela is placid and tranquil but GPI's criteria don't show it. It certainly ranks above Rwanda, Albania, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, China, Jordan, and other countries outscoring it. Why not is the question? Think politics for an answer in spite of America's low ranking and Israel near the bottom. It's not low enough. It should be last hands down. The US alone endangers global stability, world peace and the planet's survival. It alone wages permanent war, targets peaceful nations, and claims a unilateral right to use first strike nuclear weapons preemptively. It also has over 800 military bases (perhaps 1000 or more with secret ones) in 130 or more countries, hundreds more at home, and still more troops deployed in other countries throughout the world. It further spends more on its military than all other nations combined. It uses it aggressively, supports Israeli repression against Palestinians, assassinates foreign leaders, installs more "friendly" ones, and backs despots like Colombia's Uribe, Egypt's Mubarak, the Saudi royal family, Mexico's Calderon, and various installed stooges like Afghanistan's Karzai and Iraq's al-Maliki. America ranks lowest on peace. It keeps sinking lower. It alone threatens planetary survival. Failure to register that in a "peace index" is unimaginable. It makes the entire project suspect. Under Chavez in contrast, Venezuela's record is envious. It embraces its neighbors, offers no-strings aid, and engages in mutually beneficial trade, political relations, and other alliances; it also: -- assassinates no other leaders; -- doesn't seek regime changes abroad; -- has no nuclear weapons and seeks none; and -- spends less than one-half of one percent of the Pentagon's (grossly understated) military budget (around $1 to $2 billion) and less half of that, in fact, of America's total defense spending - in FY 2008: a conservatively estimated $1.1 trillion with all military, homeland security, veterans, NASA, debt service and miscellaneous related allocations included; according to Chalmers Johnson, it's not only "morally obscene," it's "fiscally unsustainable" and is heading the nation for probable "insolvency and (the world for) a long depression," or potentially worse. -- In addition, Venezuela doesn't export weapons to neighbors or incite conflict; in contrast, America is the world's leading arms and munitions supplier by far - and to many belligerent states with disturbing records of using them internally and/or against neighbors; Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Israel to cite five; -- Chavez is socially responsible at home; -- doesn't practice torture; -- has no secret prisons; -- threatens no other nation; -- wages no wars; -- is a model democracy; -- governs peacefully; -- supports human rights and social justice; -- affirms free speech; -- bans discrimination; and -- uses his resources responsibly - for his people, yet is friendly to business as well. He's earned world class stature and immense popularity at home as a result. Under George Bush in contrast, America is feared and hated worldwide. Growing numbers don't trust him at home either, and it shows in his poll ratings - some of the lowest ever for a US president with vice-president Cheney and Congress scraping rock bottom. A stunning (but long known) fact came out as well. It's in a US Justice Department Inspector General's 370 page report. It revealed that the FBI opened a "War Crimes" file documenting witnessed systemic Guantanamo Bay torture. It's so inflammatory that the administration suppressed it. It asserts that orders came from the top, including the White House, Pentagon, DOJ and NSC. It implies but doesn't state that this practice goes on in all US military prisons plus ones outsourced to in rogue states for some of the most barbaric treatment anywhere - and mostly to innocent victims. Some GPI-Reported Comparisons - America v. Venezuela Prisons everywhere are harsh, and Venezuela's are no exception. But consider America. It has the largest prison population in the world by far at 2.3 million, greater than in China with four times the population. It also adds over a 1000 new prisoners a week. It's justifiably called a gulag, so imagine what goes on offshore. No remediating efforts are planned. Reforms are off the table. America's prison-industrial complex is burgeoning. Prisons are being privatized. Profiting on human beings is big business, and consider who they are. Most are black, hispanic, poor, unempowered, nonviolent, and imprisoned for offenses like drugs possession. In contrast, Venezuela is humanizing its prisons. It's no simple task, and no miracle cures are expected. Nonetheless, positive steps are being taken for a prison population numbering 20,000 that's down from its 1992 31,400 high. The National Assembly is "committed to giv(ing) priority to (revising) the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code." It's to make it more just and improve prison conditions in health care, food, access to education and more. Reducing incarceration lengths is also planned as well as tackling root causes of crime such as poverty and lack of opportunity. Doing this in America is impossible. Things keep worsening. The nation is uncaring. It shows across the board. That highlights the problem, but GPI didn't notice. Number of homicides per 100,000 population is another category. GPI ranks America low (in number) and Venezuela high. It's unjustified. From it's beginning, America has been violent at home and abroad. It's been at war with one or more adversaries every year in its history without exception. It's called a "gun" and "rape culture" and has the highest homicide rate among all western nations. Violence is endemic, pacifism sinful, legal and illegal drug use out of control, young children introduced to violence through films, television and video games that should be outlawed. They're exported everywhere to make all societies like America. Venezuela is no exception but nowhere near to matching the US. Implausibly, America also scores well on the following: -- its number of internal security officers and police; it refers to "civil police" only; omitted are National Guard forces, Coast Guard, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA,16 spy agencies, drug enforcement, and since October 2002 the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) that preempts Posse Comitatus limitations that no longer apply; no nation on earth has more internal (or external) security, spends more for it, and no country uses it more aggressively; -- ease of access to "weapons of minor destruction;" Venezuela ranks below America; impossible as guns in the US are as accessible as chewing gum even in cities where they're banned; the Second Amendment (on right to bear arms) practically equates it with religion even though the law's original intent bears no relation to its current interpretation that's promoted by the gun lobby; -- "likelihood of violent demonstrations;" Venezuela scores high; unconsidered is why any take place and who's behind them - America, not Venezuelans except for those recruited and well-paid to cause trouble to destabilize an otherwise peaceful country; -- violent crime; Venezuela scores high again and America low; wrong as violence in the US is endemic; GPI understates it; -- political instability; Venezuela scores moderately high; again no mention why there's any or who instigates it; -- human rights; America and Venezuela get equal scores; preposterous again and insulting to Venezuelans; America's disdain for human rights is unmatched; Venezuela's is excellent by comparison; the Constitution mandates it; GPI ignores it; -- political democracy; America outranking Venezuela is impossible; the US's democracy is illusory; in Venezuela it's real and should be highest rated relative to other countries; -- the electoral process; America besting Venezuela is false and insulting; Venezuela has a model participatory democracy; all Venezuelans are enfranchised; the Constitution's Article 56 mandates it; it affirms that "All persons have the right to be registered free of charge....after birth, and to obtain public documents" so stating; -- US elections, in contrast, are deeply corrupted; big money runs them; candidates are pre-selected; machines do our voting; no recounts are possible; losers are declared winners; independent candidates are shut out; the media ignore them; they keep people uninformed; issues aren't addressed; just "horserace" theater ad nauseam; voter disenfranchisement is rife; election theft common; mountains of evidence document it; none reported in the mainstream; it's why half or more of the electorate opts out; it mocks democracy in a nation having little; it's exemplary in Venezuela; not according to GPI; -- "functioning of government" defined to mean freely electing representatives and effective checks and balances; the US wins again completely belying the facts; America's democratic governance is a sham; Venezuela's is real; GPI has things backwards; -- civil liberties; America on top here, too; it's outrageous in a growing police state climate; post-9/11 repressive laws, executive and military orders, directives and other measures are in force that would make any despot proud; presidential authority is unchallenged; Congress is mere rubber-stamp; Homeland Security is a national Gestapo; FBI and CIA also; internal spying is pervasive; dissent stifled; human rights disdained; and the rule of law is now consigned to the dustbin of history; Venezuelan society is mirror opposite; GPI failed to notice; -- "corruption perceptions;" America scores high and Venezuela low, and indeed there is a problem; yet it's minor compared to the US's all-pervasive kind - in government, business and throughout high levels in society; it involves trillions of dollars; again it didn't register; -- Reporters Without Borders (RWB) is the source for GPI's comparative "freedom of the press" assessment; RWB no longer publishes an index with assigned country rankings; instead it rates them: No. 1 good, No. 2 satisfactory, No. 3 noticeable problems, No. 4 difficult situation, and No. 5 very noticeable problems; -- RSW's reputation is tainted; it lacks credibility; it disgraced itself last year by baselessly criticizing Chavez's justifiable decision not to renew RCTV's VHF license and accusing him of violating free speech and press standards; not surprisingly, it showed in its 2007 survey with rankings still used; it rated America somewhat low at 48th but Venezuela far lower at 114th - below Chad, Morocco, Uganda, Indonesia, Albania, Congo, Liberia, Kuwait, the Central African Republic and numerous other questionable higher-ranked choices; in 2008, Venezuela jumped considerably; GPI scored it 36.9 (an apparent 37th in the world); the US fared much better at 14.5; tops were Iceland and Norway at 0.8; -- GPI and RSW should be embarrassed; consider the facts; no country outranks Venezuela in press freedom; outlandish dissent is tolerated; censorship banned, and the law affirms it; RCTV lost its VHF license for backing insurrection against the government; its officials avoided prison for their lawlessness; they were merely slapped on the wrist instead; -- America is mirror opposite; RCTV type broadcasting would be illegal, an act of sedition or treason; those responsible would be prosecuted; but it's not how major media operate in the US; they "filter" news; one-sidedly support a state and corporate agenda; shut out opposition to it; keep the electorate uninformed by operating no differently than a state-controlled ministry of information and propaganda; RSW approves; so does GPI; Its data is suspect throughout. Adult literacy (unrelated to violence) is another example. It scores America at 99%. It's laughable. Even the US Department of Education estimates it at 80% tops, and their number way overstates it. It's far lower based on inner-city math and English test scores plus painfully low computer literacy levels. Other Questionable Rankings GPI isn't alone in targeting Venezuela. Transparency International (TI) does as well. It calls itself "politically non-partisan" and a "global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption (with a) create change toward a world free of corruption." Consider its 2007 "Corruption Perceptions Index." To achieve its aim, it better tighten its standards that fall far short of "transparency." America easily outscores other nations in corruption. It's broad, deep and extends throughout government, business, and high levels of society in the trillions of dollars. But it's not how TI sees it. It ranks the US No. 20, just behind France and ahead of Chile. In contrast, Venezuela scrapes bottom at 162nd - behind Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kazakhstan, Congo, Pakistan and dozens of other dubious choices. Venezuela (like all countries) has corruption problems. But nowhere to the degree TI suggests. Its April 2008 report is rife with errors and why not. According to Calvin Tucker in a May 22 article, it was prepared by "an anti-Chavez activist who backed the 2002 military coup against democracy." His full account can be accessed by the following link: The Fraser Institute is a right wing, business-backed, Canadian-based think tank. It prepares an annual Economic Freedom of the World Index that has nothing to do with freedom. It's not kind to Venezuela and sidesteps facts in its assessment. Following the country's 2002-03 oil management lockout, growth has been impressive and remains so. Business has profited hugely. All economic measures are strong and improving except for inflation. It remains stubbornly high, but efforts are being made to curb it. Nonetheless, Fraser reports with blinders. It ranked Venezuela practically at the bottom - 126th out of 130 nations, only besting Congo, Zimbabwe and two other countries. It's the sixth consecutive bottom-scraping rating and mirror opposite those for pre-Chavez years. Since then, Venezuela prospered. Chavez is friendly to business. Fraser turns a blind eye. It's part of a corporate-led conspiracy to crush democracy and reempower capital. It raises questions on whether GPI, RWB, TI, Fraser and others are part of a larger scheme. Iran is America's top target. Venezuela is next. Both countries are nominated for regime change. Continued efforts work toward it. It's no secret why. Each is oil rich, their leaders independent, and they refuse to be US clients. For Washington, that's sinful and unforgivable. The media are on board. They relentlessly bash both countries and report fiction as fact. Destabilization efforts continue. Anything may erupt anytime. GPI and the others may be helping. Their low Venezuelan rankings are suspect. Washington may be behind them. Corporate backers as well. They get what they pay for. In this case, vilifying Chavez. GPI's facts are bogus. So are RWB's, TI's and Fraser's. It discredits their Venezuela v. America's rankings. Their entire reports as well. View them with caution. Understand what's likely going on. Part of a greater scheme to destabilize Venezuela and end its model democracy. Exposing them is the best way to prevent it. Global Research Associate Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour Mondays on Republic from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Colombia: Uribe, Extradition, and the Fight for Justice

Speculation on the motivations behind Uribe’s undermining his own Ley de Justicia y Paz Recommendations for the defense of Colombian victims of injustice

Controversial Extradition

On Tuesday, May 13, President Uribe approved the extradition of 14 Colombians to the United States who face drug trafficking charges. While the Uribe administration has overseen the transfer of more defendants to the US than any other president in Colombia’s history, the most recent series of handovers is perhaps the most controversial. Among the group are some of the highest ranking leaders of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a brutal rightist paramilitary force which has been a principal actor in the country’s long running civil conflict as well as the perpetrator of some of the war’s major massacres and other human rights abuses. According to Uribe, the extradition of the AUC senior leaders was necessary because of the repeated failure to cooperate with Colombian investigators in sharing information about their crimes and a lack of willingness to surrender their illegally attained assets. Uribe also cited the continued participation of the former paramilitary leaders in illegal activities, such as narcotrafficking, even after they submitted to being detained.

Despite these justifications, many observers question Uribe’s decision to forego the judicial mechanisms previously established by the passage of Law 925, also known as La Ley de Justicia y Paz. A crucial part of the demobilization process which has resulted in the reintegration of thousands of former combatants into civil society, the law was intended to encourage the country’s reconciliation process. It mandates that participants in Colombia’s civil conflict may confess their crimes and make only token reparations to victims or their families in exchange for a maximum sentence of 8 years. If the accused does not confess or make reparations, they are to be turned over to the Colombian judicial system to be tried, with the important distinction that any convictions made would lack maximum sentencing limits. Like Uribe, the United States seems very much in favor of the reversal of direction of a law that both enthusiastically supported upon its passage in 2005.

The motivation behind the latest round of extraditions is questionable. Some see them as an attempt by Uribe to distance himself from the paramilitaries in the wake of almost daily allegations of embarrassingly close ties that his administration has had to high AUC comandantes. In an interview with the Inter Press Service, the vice president of the liberal José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective commented that, “this move confirms what we have said from the start: that a Congress with a strong paramilitary presence legislated on its own behalf.” Those who hold this opinion contend that the real propellant behind Uribe’s rush to extradite these notorious figures comes not so much from a desire to see justice done, but quite the opposite. They see the extraditions as helping to deter the emergence of any new information about the intimate bonds that have existed between Uribe, his legislative supporters, and the AUC, effectively halting progress in the investigation of the parapolitico scandal in which some 60 legislators are currently embroiled.

Further complicating the matter is the issue of the proposed Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia which is currently stalled in the US Congress. Democratic Party leaders have repeatedly refused to move forward on the legislation amidst concerns that the Uribe administration has not done enough to address human rights abuses committed in his country. US spokesperson Dana Perino, aggressively pedaling the White House line, said in a press conference that Bush hopes the Democrats will see the extraditions as “yet another sign” that the Colombian president is, in fact, serious about punishing perpetrators of such crimes. Uribe, today the closest US ally in the region, and a strong proponent and beneficiary of the FTA, may also be using the extraditions to send such a signal.

A Call for Justice

Whatever the motivation behind the extraditions, one thing remains clear: investigations into the self-confessed crimes against humanity committed by men like Salvatore Mancuso, formerly the second highest ranking AUC official, must continue. Truth and reconciliation processes are integral components of successful conflict resolution. Acknowledgement of, and punishment for, crimes such as mass killings, torture, and forced displacement, attributable to the AUC, will facilitate the establishment of a sustainable peace.

There is no question that the thousands of victims of AUC excesses require the application of justice, but it may be impossible to achieve it while continually ridding the country of those who could compromise the government’s interests in the process. If Uribe truly desires to bring an end to the conflict in Colombia, he must be as aggressive against irregular armed groups in his country’s courts as has been in his speeches, even if this means making modest concessions to those who cooperate with the investigation of crimes as stipulated by Ley 925. In the case of the 14 men already extradited to the United States, all those involved in this country’s criminal justice system, including US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, must ensure that adequate justice will be served with respect to past human rights abuses committed in Colombia. Sources have reported that a stipulation in the extradition agreement between the two countries will allow Colombian prosecutors access to defendants so that the investigation of abuses committed throughout the nineties and beyond will continue to be sought. This agreement must be upheld and such clauses vigorously pursued.

Additionally, the possibility of prosecution of those extradited to this country under the US Alien Tort Claim Statute (ATCS) should be explored. This legislation, passed as a part of the original Judiciary Act of 1789, has become an increasingly relevant vehicle for the defense of international human rights. It establishes jurisdiction of US courts over, “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Although COHA was deeply involved in the case, it was the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a highly regarded nonprofit legal organization located in New York City, which used the ATCS in 1979 to form the basis for their case against Américo Norberto Peña Irala, a Paraguayan police official accused of the murder of Joelito Filártiga. The CCR represented the Filártiga family in pursuit of damages sought for the 17 year old’s extrajudicial killing. In a landmark decision, the Second Circuit Court of New York ruled in favor of the Filártigas to the amount of $10.4 million dollars.

The successful use of the ATCS in the case of Filártiga v Irala Peña demonstrates that the statute and more recent and related legislation can be powerful tools to convict those accused of crimes against humanity such as torture, extrajudicial killings, and genocide. Following the post-Nuremburg philosophy that individuals, as well as states, may be found to be in violation of international law, the ATCS has been applied in several important human rights cases, and its possible applicability in the case of the Colombian paramilitary leaders should be thoroughly explored.

Members of the US government would well be vigilant in pursuing this matter. Just as Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) admirably spoke out in favor of investigating the human rights abuses of Salvadoran generals in 2007, members of the US congress should request that US Attorney General Michael Mukasey pay special attention not only to crimes associated with drug trafficking but also with human rights abuses committed by the 14 extradited Colombians. The current administration has a demonstrably weak record when it comes to the defense of international human rights; those on Capital Hill who choose to fight for Colombian victims may meet considerable opposition from the US public relations and law firms recently hired by the Colombian government. The Bush White House repeatedly has tried to push such matters under the rug in order to advance the prospects of successfully achieving a FTA with Colombia and to avoid the implications that prosecution of such abuses might have for US corporate interests and officials abroad.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs wishes to echo the sentiments of organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in asking that the crimes against humanity, of which the extradited paramilitary leaders have been accused, are not forgotten in the pursuit of convictions on narcotrafficking charges. The US has acknowledged the terror inflicted on the Colombian population by the AUC up to 2001 when it classified the illegally armed group as a terrorist organization. It was on that occasion that Colin Powell recognized in a speech that the illegally armed group was guilty of such abuses as: “the massacre of hundreds of civilians, the forced displacement of entire villages, and the kidnapping of political figures to force recognition of AUC demands.” The United States must remain mindful of this uncontested assessment of the terror inflicted by the AUC and take care to prevent its own partisan political interests and its backing of Uribe from subverting the achievement of justice which is so vital to the establishment of a sustainable peace in Colombia.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Jessica Bryant

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