Archive for January 4th, 2011
This morning, to mark the release of my new book Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All, I went on Twitter and asked a simple question: What would you do if you were Super Rich?
The response was immediate, humbling and extremely encouraging.
@buyhousescheap wrote, “If I were #SuperRich I would rebuild Haiti.”
@313Don214 said, “If was super rich I would buy an apartment building to give the homeless a second chance.”
@Tim Summa wrote, “I would put away enough money to help my family, then I would start to help the youth. There would be after school programs, or maybe I would start my own schools.”
@Antwon Butler Sr said, “I will help with all the inner city school and make sure they all get an education jus like the private school kids get, ya dig.”
@GDMODE wrote, “I’m well on my way to being #superrich because I’m saving so many precious and innocent animals by not eating meat!!! ”
@FlavianaMatata said, “If I was #SuperRich I would…make sure at least 25% of Tanzania ppl could use internet…”
@treenna wrote: if I was #SuperRich…I would make sure low income mothers would have affordable daycare…
@Iamarealc said, “if I were #superrich I’d buy a home for every homeless family living on the highway underpass on my way home from work. #sad.”
@Enrique Zayas said, “I would Brewster Billion it n give it all away…I wouldn’t spend a dime on myself. But I’d help my family friends n stranger n then enjoy watching there dreams come true…
What made all these responses so damn inspiring wasn’t only the compassion and commitment to service that they expressed, but also what they didn’t focus on.
Not too many people tweeted about buying themselves a new car or watch. Not too many people even wrote about taking that dream vacation, or improving their house. Almost to a person, the responses all put the needs of other first.
And really, that’s the message at the core of Super Rich. That when you dedicate yourself to service rather success, compassion rather than consumption and make your focus the process itself rather than the results, you will bring out the best in not only yourself, but the world around you as well.
True richness is a state of needing nothing. I try to state that truth over and over again in Super Rich and I see it expressed as well in all these inspiring Tweets. Because when these beautiful people talk about putting the needs of others first, what they’re really saying is, “Nothing I get for myself is going to make me feel half as good as putting a smile on someone else’s face.”
The idea that happiness is the state of needing nothing might sound “new agey” to some, but it’s really as old-school a message as you’ll find. From Abraham to Lord Buddah Jesus to Mohammad to Lord Krishna, all the great prophets have promoted this simple truth. In Christianity, it’s “Christ Consciousness.” In Buddhism, “Nirvana.” In Yoga, “Samadhi.”
Having said that, I want to address one common misconception some people get when I start talking about needing nothing. Having a selfless, compassionate attitude is not going to separate you from worldly success. In fact, just the opposite. This is because when you are a happy, selfless worker completely focused on your service, you will experience this simple truth: GREAT GIVERS BECOME EVEN BETTER GETTERS.
This is such a critical concept. As you move towards a higher degree of consciousness, you will find that the road to enlightened is paved with riches. When you operate from a state of contented abundance you will get materially rich. In fact, much quicker than the selfish person who chases money and is only focused on the results.
In over 25 years in the entertainment industry, I have seen this truth played out over and over again. I watched people like Kevin Liles, today one of the most important players in the record industry and the great director Brett Ratner start off as unpaid interns and quickly climb their way to the top off the strength of their service. They weren’t worried about getting paid or even getting promoted. They were completely immersed in the process of making the people around them better. It was a quality that made them so attractive that soon the world was writing them bigger checks than they could have ever imagined.
So to everyone today who demonstrated that same selfless spirit in their Tweets, I want to know that you are on the right path. Have faith that your belief in service isn’t going to separate you from worldly success, but rather insure it.
Know that if you throw yourself into the process helping rebuilding Haiti, or setting up affordable daycare or protecting the animals, that the world will reward you richly. Not only with the material toys that are fun to play with for a moment, but with the long term happiness and contentment that comes from giving. And once you touch that true, lasting happiness, then you’ll be Super Rich.
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No one who has followed the career of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is surprised that he has agreed to participate in a meeting tomorrow of the so-called “Constitutional Conservative Caucus,” organized by extremist Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
The decision by Justice Antonin Scalia to serve as a featured speaker in an event on January 5 organized by far-right Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party-oriented “Constitutional Conservative Caucus,” is just the latest in a series of actions and statements by the Justice that threaten the integrity of the federal judiciary.
A cornerstone of the American legal system is the notion that judges and justices interpret the law fairly and impartially. This fundamental principle of our democracy is undermined when Supreme Court justices serve as willing agents of a transparently political entity like the Tea Party movement, which has an aggressive legislative and judicial agenda that is directed, in part, at the Court itself.
Regrettably, this is not the first time Justice Scalia has shed any pretense of objectivity. His refusal to recuse himself in 2004 from a case involving then-Vice President Dick Cheney, with whom he had just completed a hunting trip, as well as his recent comments making clear that women stand no chance with him to protect their Constitutional rights, erode the expectations Americans have for the behavior of Supreme Court justices.
At the time of the Cheney incident Justice Scalia said, “I do not believe my impartiality can reasonably be questioned.” Given his eager participation in tomorrow’s Tea Party seminar, his words ring hollower than ever.
Justice Scalia should protect the integrity of the Court and cancel his appearance at this blatantly partisan, right-wing event.
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With a new year upon us, it’s time to take stock of the historic BP oil disaster and look towards the future. The Deepwater Horizon blow out shined a national spotlight on the oil and gas drilling in the Gulf, an environmental time bomb that blew 50 miles offshore. The disaster created more than oily waves in the region. It provided dramatic insight into an industry that fought and ignored safety regulations, spewed record amounts of oil and toxic chemicals into the waterways, fouled the air with health threatening refinery and petrochemical plant pollution, and cut thousands of marsh killing pipeline canals across the bayous.
Today, the oil industry continues to push drilling pipe into the seabed, sucking up hydrocarbons to power our oil addicted economy and leading us further down the destructive path of global climate change. But Gulf residents are not the only ones to blame. It’s all of us. We have permitted the oil and gas industry to maintain a strangle-hold on our politicians and block clean energy solutions that will not only create new jobs but make the planet healthier for us all. It’s time to change that.
Photo by Rocky Kistner/NRDC
I spent most of my time in the Gulf last year and was a personal witness to this tragedy. On April 20, people in the Gulf received a shocking wake-up call—a reality check about the oil industry’s destructive habits. I’ve talked to many fishermen and residents who once accepted the massive oil pipelines and leaking drilling rigs as a way of doing business in the Gulf. But now many are having second thoughts. People there are still hurting economically, physically and mentally from the aftermath of 200 million gallons of BP oil spewed into the sea. And many will likely be hurting for years to come. This year will be a crucial one for Gulf fishermen hoping, praying and counting on the seafood industry to return to normal. If it doesn’t, there will be hell to pay. And hundreds of millions of dollars of oil industry PR won’t stem their wrath.
But it’s important to note that over the past year the winds of change have swept through the region. Life is not the same and may never be after this oil catastrophe. Here are some of the things that are out from last year and what’s in for the year to come in the Gulf. Please feel free to add your own.
OUT: Minerals Management Service, a toothless oil industry safety and oversight agency.
IN: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, a revamped regulatory agency designed to improve independent oil industry oversight.
OUT: Restaurants featuring fresh Gulf coast oysters, shrimp and crab.
IN: Menus featuring crawfish and imported frozen shrimp.
OUT: BP CEO Tony Hayward and his foot-in-mouth statements.
IN: Sec. Navy Roy Mabus, former Gov. of Mississippi, head of Gulf restoration efforts.
OUT: Complaints about Katrina FEMA trailers.
IN: Complaints about Ken Feinberg and BP’s $20 billion claims fund.
OUT: BP’s Vessel of Opportunity cleanup program for local fishermen.
IN: Boat rides for eco tours and scientific investigations.
OUT: Subsistence fishermen who depend on local markets and seafood prices to survive.
IN: Beefed-up food bank and charity programs that provide basic social services.
OUT: BP and oil industry logos worn on clothes in public.
IN: T-shirts promoting Tar Ball Rodeos.
OUT: Marital bliss.
IN: Family counseling and mental health services.
OUT: World class charter fishing.
IN: Swamp tours.
OUT: Vacations in Gulf Shores AL.
IN: Vacations in Branson, MO.
OUT: Comprehensive oil spill legislation that failed to pass Congress last year.
IN: New 112th Congress efforts to roll back environmental regulations.
OUT: Failed oil pipeline blow out preventers.
IN: New deep sea oil containment devices.
OUT: Zero research into impacts of chemical oil dispersants at sea.
IN: Increased federal marine science studies including a $500 million BP science research fund.
OUT: Proposed oil drilling off the Atlantic and Florida coasts.
IN: Increased pressure to drill for oil in the Arctic.
OUT: Pristine Gulf barrier island beaches and wildlife refuges.
IN: Oil buried under sand and marsh grass and tar balls that roll in with the tides.
OUT: Confidence in the fishing industry that the next shrimp season will return to normal.
IN: Prayer that it will.
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to become an artist. The hours are long, the benefits are few and the pay is lousy. Even worse, it’s a lonely place; most folks cannot fathom our what nor why of it. “Success” in the arts cannot be quantified nor is the pursuit easily explained.
I don’t know why I am compelled to make art, but every day I’m trying to figure out how to make more. In a true American style, I have sought to find a system of survival that will allow more time and greater resources to do what I do best. My Design for Living is constantly being amended and shall never be perfected, yet the basic structure shall benefit my fellow artists everywhere.
Following is a list of survival skills and guerrilla tactics in order of greatest importance:
I) Moral Support — Find a bartender with an MFA. If everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, then you might as well make it an empathetic and educated one. I highly suggest that you conscript several. Should you ever get 86′d, it’s good to have a back-up.
II) Legal Support — Find a good criminal attorney. I am not suggesting that you keep one on retainer, but I do advocate a relationship that you can count on. Plug that phone number into Speed Dial. The hair on your chinny chin-chin is rather thin and easily plucked. Your lives are limited to nine. The American penal system does not provide art supplies. Natch.
III) Financial Indemnification — Money, or rather the lack of it, may be the greatest and most vexing roadblock to the free-flowing life force of an artist.
The following Flow Chart is a simple one: Art demands time. Time is money. Money is earned through time spent anywhere but in your studio.
As you can see, it is a vicious and endless cycle that does not offer many opportunities for relief. I shall endeavor to list several venues of escape. In order of greatest convenience and benefit:
(A) An adequate trust fund is not as suitable as a bountiful one, but I would refuse neither. An inheritance is, by far, the most preferable financial opportunity for an artist. You are beholden to no one except the dead. The demands of time and effort are limited to endorsing a check once a month.
Unfortunately, my prospects of a trust fund are nil. This unforgivable and cruel fact has often driven me to shake my fist at the moon and loudly curse the Gods, much to the dismay of my neighbors.
(B) Marry well. Many suggest that marriage is a wise and valuable option. I like the idea that sex is included in the package but I have my reservations.
Often times, ‘to marry well’ can demand more emotional grief and time at hard labor than a counter job at McDonalds.
(C) Go Third World. The coffee is better and the rent is cheaper.
(D) A favorable day job. This is easier hoped for than found. If time is money, then you want to make the most money in the least amount of time. (See Figure 23.1) Unfortunately, a law degree yields a higher hourly wage than an art degree. Fortunately, most states offer a minimum wage, which unfortunately does not buy spit.
Ideally, you will be lucky to serve your time under a sympathetic boss who has a love, appreciation and a support for the fine arts. He or she will be inspired (or at least amused) by your singular passion and lend assistance and resources in every way.
This is the exception to the rule. Most employers will view your artistry with suspicion, sneer at your ‘misguided’ values and do everything they can to thwart your quest. “I don’t care if you’re debuting in Belgium–Sweep the damn floor!”
IV) The Mindset of the Artist — From Aristotle to Anthony Robbins, every smart mind concludes, “Attitude is everything.” That cup can be sadly half empty or gleefully half full! Unfortunately, artists tend to dig a bit deeper and ask, “Full of what?”
The cranial synapses of an artist are not wired like that of a civilian. There are quirks and contradictions to most of us that make Life as carefree as dancing on a minefield. The world is marching one way and we are blithely skipping in another. How do we endure?
Attitude. The artist must foster and nurture a mindset to survive.
(A) No Absolutes: Fad and Fashion — I like to think there is a Valhalla of Beauty, an absolute in Art. I prefer to believe that there will be an epiphany or a revelation, a destination to any artistic journey. Such a glory does not exist.
The art world that I want to believe in is merely a concoction of a fantastic mind. The actual art world has as much resolve as next season’s wallpaper. It is a victim and a proponent of fad and fashion.
When I first realized this, I felt like a Believer who suddenly learns that the parish priest is a pederast. My devastation has since mellowed and aged into a steadfast resolve: Stay the course, lads. Stay true to your aesthetic. This is our integrity. This is our power and our strength. The dedication and perseverance to our Form becomes our ultimate joy.
(B) True Reward — As artists, we seek recognition for our work, yet this is a slippery slope to climb. It demands an investment into a judicial authority whose demeanor can only be described as capricious.
The work of Jackson Pollack was hailed as genius and slaughtered as stale, all within a very short period of time. A gnawing hunger for external recognition can never be fed. It is an emotional hole than will never be filled because the appetite grows larger and demands more.
A gaggle of psychologists will tell you that self-worth is the only panacea and they are right. The reward is in the work. As much as I bitch and moan about the storage, maintenance and preservation of my inventory, I am damn proud of that pile.
This private joy is our pay dirt. The act of creation is golden.
(C) Recognition — Your efforts are not wasted. Your time will come. You will be recognized. Your dedication guarantees it. As fad and fashion gallop and leap like horses on a slow moving merry-go-round, your turn to snatch a brass ring will come.
We must show graciousness for any attention that is thrown our way. We must be humble before every gesture. You may never show your work at MOCA, but you can be damn sure you’ll have a retrospective at a community gallery before you turn seventy-five. That will be a glorious honor.
(D) Patience and Longevity — Like aging hookers and old buildings, artists become respectable over time. Great success in the arts comes from the courage and single-mindedness of your durability.
The true reward is in your daily journey and the daring, impractical belief in your quest. Given the high attrition rate of artists, you will be ultimately honored for your longevity. Keep making art.
(E) Balance — A sailor’s legs are the greatest survival skill an artist can possess and the most difficult to acquire. We need to keep both feet on a pitching deck.
Artists are a species of anxious and warring contradictions. We are giants and we are dwarves. We are Ying and we are Yang. We are sorely selfish and genuinely generous. No one can beat their chest and roar in triumph as loud as we.
Conversely, no one can lock themselves into a closet as black, insular and deep as ours. In the minds own eye, no light shines as bright and there is no darker hell. We are invincible and we are worthless. We see the sadness in beauty and the genius in madness.
Long ago I proffered that ‘artists are the astronauts of our sociology.’ Test pilot Chuck Yeager may have nicked the sound barrier, but artists push the frontiers of the human experience. We laugh more and we cry more. We feel more and we see more. I believe that is what motivates us to make the choices that we make and the actions that we take.
We seem to embody all of the contradictions of humanity. This is the gasoline of our fire. The trick and the skill is to singe ourselves without self-immolating. To triumph with humility. To fade with dignity. To lose graciously and congratulate whole-heartedly. To pursue our own individual aesthetic with a plausible and steadfast integrity.
This is the balance. This is our self-worth. This is our lives.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist and writer. His visual and literary works can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com. His Disneyesque conceptual piece, the Fellowship of Fortuna begins at www.FortunaNow.com
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Remember Leave it to Beaver? Remember how young Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver would get into scrapes, as big brother Wally teased and Mom June offered motherly comfort and Dad Ward taught valuable lessons?
I ask, because on New Year’s Day, N. Gregory Mankiw (a professor of Economics at Harvard) published, in the New York Times, an op-ed piece in which he essentially assumed the role of Ward Cleaver, offering sage advice to President Obama while couching it in the kind of simple language and simple-minded concepts even a nine-year-old could understand. Let’s listen in!
Dear President Obama,
Sorry to bother you. I know you are busy. But I have the sense that you could use a few words of advice.
Isn’t that nice? Oh, “I have the sense that you could use” is a bit ESL, but we know he means well. Then, after two quick puffs on the pipe of “here come the Republicans” and “I am here to help,” Dad gets down to cases:
FOCUS ON THE LONG RUN… Liberals, [Jimmy Carter's chief economist Charles L.] Schultze suggested, tend to worry most about short-run policy. And, indeed, starting with the stimulus package in early 2009, your economic policy has focused on the short-run problem of promoting recovery from the financial crisis and economic downturn.
But now it is time to pivot and address the long-term fiscal problem.
You see, Beaver, even though unemployment is pushing 10% (with the worse consecutive series of months over 9% since the Great Depression), banks and businesses are sitting on record hoards of cash, and the middle class is teetering on bankruptcy and downward mobility, it’s time to “pivot.” What I mean is, now that the obstructionists, liars, religious nutbars and frothing lunatics of the Republican Party have arrived to rule the House, “it’s time” to assuage, not the short-term problems of corporations and the wealthy, but their longer-term concerns.
THINK AT THE MARGIN Republicans worry about the adverse incentive effects of high marginal tax rates. A marginal tax rate is the additional tax that a person pays on an extra dollar of income.
From this perspective, many of the tax cuts you have championed look more like tax increases. For example, the so-called Making Work Pay Tax Credit is phased out for individuals making more than $75,000 a year. That is, because many Americans lose some of the credit as they earn more, the credit reduces their incentive to work. In effect, it is an increase in their marginal tax rate.
From the standpoint of incentives, a tax cut is worthy of its name only if it increases the reward for earning additional income.
Now, Beaver, I know you’re wondering: Do people really do that? Other than tough-talking Randroid cranks?
I think they do. Even though I’ve never met a single individual (making more than 75K a year–the tax is applied to adjusted gross income) or couple (making more than 150K) who contemplate the change in their tax and decide, “I know my lifestyle has expanded to take advantage of my decent income, and I know that various notorious costs, such as that of college for my kids or health insurance for me and my family, are skyrocketing on a daily basis, and I know that it’s wise to earn as much as I can during my ‘peak earning years’ if for no other reason than to set more aside for what everyone is still laughingly calling ‘retirement,’ but still, I dunno–I just don’t feel right. That little bit of extra tax stinks. I have no incentive. I think I’ll work less.”
Nonetheless I’m sure those people exist. And both of them matter very much to me, and they should to you, too.
STOP TRYING TO SPREAD THE WEALTH Ever since your famous exchange with Joe the Plumber, it has been clear that you believe that the redistribution of income is a crucial function of government. A long philosophical tradition supports your view. It includes John Rawls’s treatise “A Theory of Justice,” which concludes that the main goal of public policy should be to transfer resources to those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Now I know your mother says that the phrase “redistribution of income” can be applied to anything from agribusiness subsidies to Social Security. But to us it means “giving the poor a free ride.” And it’s true that I’m arguing deceptively, invoking Rawls as someone who “supports” Obama’s view (supported, actually; A Theory of Justice was published in 1971, when Obama was ten), and then (dishonestly) ascribing to Obama the view of Rawls. But that’s what Republicans do, son.
Many Republicans, however, reject this view of the state. From their perspective, it is not the proper role of government to fix the income distribution in an attempt to achieve some utopian vision of fairness.
Yes, Beaver, I’m doing it (i.e., disingenuously engaging in rhetorical sleaziness) again, because on Leave it to Beaver, father knows best: “fairness” is necessarily a “utopian vision.” When the top 1% of the population takes in 21% of the national income, fairness must be equated with impractical idealism, or we’ll have anarchy and socialism.
Whereas hard-headed, non-utopian, principled-but-realistic Republicans
… believe, instead, that in a free society, people make money when they produce goods and services that others value, and that, as a result, what they earn is rightfully theirs.
Now, it’s true that the most callous, greedy, and morally self-satisfied monster in Charles Dickens’s London would say precisely the same thing. But you don’t know that, because you’re still a child, Beaver.And so are the readers of the New York Times.
SPREAD OPPORTUNITY INSTEAD Despite their rejection of spreading the wealth, Republicans recognize that times are hard for the less fortunate. Their solution is not to adjust the slices of the economic pie, as if they had been doled out by careless cutting, but to expand the pie by providing greater opportunity for all.
Since the mid-1970s, the gap between rich and poor has grown considerably. One of best analyses of this long-term trend is by the Harvard economics professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz in their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology.” The authors conclude that widening inequality is largely a symptom of the educational system’s failure to provide enough skilled workers to keep up with the ever increasing demand.
Of course, your mother might ask, “If that were true, Ward, wouldn’t ‘skilled workers’ find themselves increasingly in demand, with rising salaries? And what makes Goldin and Katz’s book so great? What about this one?” But she’s just the mother, Beaver.
We’re almost finished, and then you can go outside and play. But first:
DON’T MAKE THE OPPOSITION YOUR ENEMY Last month, when you struck your tax deal with Republican leaders, you said you were negotiating with “hostage takers.” In the future, please choose your metaphors more carefully.
Republicans are not terrorists. They are not the enemy. Like you, they love their country, and they want what is best for the American people. They just have a different judgment about what that is.
Son, remember those Republicans, who have bragged about how they want to destroy you and your administration? The ones who have held up a record number of your judicial appointments because they hate America and love to cripple its justice system? The ones who refused to fund medical care for 9-11 responders until they were shamed and/or bribed into going along? The ones who encourage and underwrite the certifiable paranoia and foaming idiocy of the Tea Parties, who call you everything from Stalin to Hitler to a Muslim terrorist? Don’t make them your enemy. Because they’re not terrorists. They just want to crush you and everything you stand for.
Let me propose a New Year’s resolution for you: Have a beer with a Republican at least once a week. The two of you won’t necessarily agree, but you might end up with a bit more respect for each other’s differences.
Okay, son. I hope you’ve learned your lesson. And don’t worry that what I’ve said insulted your intelligence, because it didn’t. You’re just a kid!
This Blogger’s Books from
Yiddish with Dick and Jane
by Ellis Weiner, Barbara Davilman
The Big Jewish Book for Jews: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Jewish Jew
by Ellis Weiner, Barbara Davilman
Great is the irony of designing a brand new class in happiness. Because as you will see if you read the computer diary that I kept when I first started developing the class back in June of 2010, I was decidedly not very happy when I began developing the class.
I told my husband the other night that developing this class (at the University at Albany, SUNY) has been one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
It has TAUGHT ME VERY IMPORTANT LESSONS ABOUT HOW TO BE HAPPY. I would like to thank my husband, Richard Kirsch (one of the most optimistic people I know and a principal player in the long and difficult fight for health care last year) for suggesting that I keep a journal as I started to do the reading and thinking that I needed to do for this class, which begins two weeks from tomorrow on January, 19, 2011.
It took months and months, first to do all the reading that I needed to do, and then, to assemble the syllabus. And then, it took an equal number of months to get the class through various comittees and subcomittees and Dean’s and departmental offices etc. You have no idea what a bureaucracy a university can be.
Then I had the equally trying task of getting all the paperwork completed to post the class in the course catalogue on the University’s on-line registration system.
It wasn’t until last week that we finally crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s and got the class ready for registration.
As I have started to reread the journal — it is 43 pages, single-spaced, on the computer — I am reminded of a couple things: a) when I started developing the class I was really quite depressed, and b) I kept praying for happiness.
So you could say that my prayers for happiness were answered by starting a happiness class.
I want to thank my supervisor, Maritza Martinez, in the Office of Academic Support Services at the University at Albany, SUNY, for her continued support during this long and often torturous process.
It was very difficult at times to continue believing that this was the right thing to do.
But Maritza just kept reassuring me that everything would be fine, and that I was doing the exactly the right thing, developing a new interdisciplinary class that could, through cognitive skills, help students to understand what would make them happier.
At one point last June, as I was describing to her some of my fears and my hesitations about the class (including the fact that the class could turn into a giant therapy session which I did NOT want!) she very calmly listened to me. She acknowledged my fears and then she calmly slid a book across her desk to me.
The book is called Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, which Maritza was using for the summer program that we offer to our students as part of the Educational Opportunities Program at the University.
That book’s title was precisely the message I needed to hear. I needed to feel the fear but do it anyway.
So, THANKS MARITZA!
The first entry in the diary originally ran as an essay on the Huffington Post. But it is the second diary entry that really captures the irony of this endeavor. Here it is, called, “Who Me? Teach Happiness? But I’m Depressed!”
P.S. The very good news is that I’m NOT depressed anymore and haven’t been for many many months.
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“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together… As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961
Fifty years ago, in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned the American people that they must remain alert and knowledgeable and guard against an expansion of America’s military empire — a.k.a. the military industrial complex — if they were to have any hope of maintaining the balance between liberty and security. To our detriment, we failed to heed Eisenhower’s warning.
Indeed, the state of our nation is at an all-time low — morally, socially, economically and politically. And despite various and sundry protests, rallies, political upheavals, and wake-up calls of one kind or another, most Americans remain clueless, fixated on whatever fleeting news stories the talking heads on the 24-hour cable news channels spew forth and deem to be important. All the while, most are only vaguely cognizant that a sea change of events is transforming American culture and the freedoms we once cherished.
In fact, while our freedoms continue to be eroded on almost every front, the government has gone to incredible lengths to use its vast arsenal of technological tools and weapons against us. As Dana Priest and William Arkin, writing for the Washington Post, concluded after a months-long investigation, “Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.” Just consider some of what we’ve been subjected to in the past year alone:
Full-body scanners in airports that can “see” through clothing to produce images of an individual’s unclothed body, although they are unable to reveal material concealed in body cavities — a program with few guarantees of success and numerous pitfalls, not the least of which is the harrowing toll it is taking on our civil liberties and the risks it poses to our health.
Mobile versions of airport full-body scanners mounted in nondescript delivery vehicles enable police or other government agents to blend into urban and other landscapes, producing instantaneous photo-like images of whatever the van passes — whether it be cars, trucks, containers, homes or people. In other words, the government can now do drive-by strip searches of your person and your home, including monitoring what you are doing in the privacy of your home.
Iris scanners can capture scans on individuals in motion who are six feet away, laying the groundwork for iris scans to become de facto national ID cards, which can be implemented without our knowledge or consent.
“Smart” police cars come equipped with license plate cameras, computers, a GPS projectile launcher, and even a heat detector in the front grill to differentiate between people and animals, and police officers are equipped with “smart” phones containing the latest technologies for identifying and tracking so-called “suspects.” With such tools at its disposal, the government can retroactively pinpoint exactly where you were on any given day. And if you had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the burden of proving your innocence will rest with you.
Drones — pilotless, remote controlled aircraft that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan and are a $2 billion cornerstone of the Obama administration’s war efforts — have increasingly found favor with both military and American law enforcement officials. The Federal Aviation Administration has faced mounting pressure from state governments and localities to issue flying rights for a range of unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out civilian and law-enforcement activities, not the least of which will be surveillance on American citizens.
Fusion centers — data collecting agencies spread throughout the country, aided by the National Security Agency — constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected–the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police — a relationship which will make a transition to martial law that much easier.
Added to this arsenal of technology, we now have a shadow government fully staffed by un-elected officials, ready to take over the running of the country at a moment’s notice; secret prisons where American citizens are being snatched up and made to disappear with no access to the legal system; massive and growing databases containing information on otherwise ordinary Americans reported for such suspicious behavior as gazing at a bridge or taking a picture of a tollbooth; wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion already; and American soldiers deployed on American soil in clear violation of longstanding laws against using military personnel for law enforcement purposes within the U.S.
We have evolved into a suspect society where privacy is extinct and we are no longer presumed innocent until proven guilty but rather everyone is a suspect. Moreover, as part of its “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign, the Department of Homeland Security is urging Americans to spy on one another, aided and abetted by the corporate elite. This merger of government and corporate America is a subtle move toward a total control society — one in which the government is able to track the movements of people in real time and control who does what, when and where. In exchange, the government promises to provide security and convenience, the two highly manipulative, siren-song catchwords of our modern age.
Our representative government has been hijacked by a wealthy elite whose pockets are lined by corporate America and who have minimal comprehension of what the average American must endure just to get by. Despite occasional populist outpourings of discontent, the Washington elite–that is, the President and Congress — have steadily advanced their agenda, paying little heed to the will of the people.
We’re experiencing the pain of a military empire that is beginning to collapse inwards. Overextended through our military spending and overridden with debt, we are teetering on the edge of financial ruin. Our national debt (the total amount of money owed by the government) is more than $13 trillion and has increased by $4.1 billion per day since September 28, 2007, while our national budget deficit (the amount of spending that is greater than revenue) clocked in at a record $1.4 trillion this year.
In short, “We, the people” have become enslaved by the very institution — the U.S. government in an unholy alliance with corporate America — that was entrusted with guarding our liberties. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass fittingly remarked, “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”
Yet we all have a part to play in laying the foundations for this frightening state of affairs — the American people due to our inaction and gullibility; the corporations, who long ago sold us out for the profit they could make on us; the federal government, for using our tax dollars to fund technologies aimed at entrapping us; lobbyists who have greased the wheels of politics in order to ensure that their clients’ interests are prioritized over our own; the courts, for failing to guard our liberties more vigilantly; our so-called representatives for doing little to protect us from the encroaching police state.
As for whether there is anything that can be done to restore our freedoms, we have travelled a long way down this road — too far, I fear, for anything to really be accomplished by turning back. Once power has been handed over to an authoritarian state, it is virtually impossible to restore the balance. Nevertheless, we must try. We are not the first to suffer under the indignities of oppression, nor will we be the last to attempt to break those chains when they become too onerous. So what can we do?
First, we need to recognize that the enemy is us. You’re either a protector of freedom or its enemy. Easily distracted, consumed with our own wants and needs, unwilling to do the hard work of maintaining our individual and collective freedoms, we have become the greatest threat to our freedoms. We’ve become willing victims of entertainment and rampant materialism. It’s the old magician’s sleight of hand: the corporations are entertaining and distracting us, all the while we’re being taken for a ride. We are, so to speak, being entertained while Rome burns.
Second, we need to stop looking to elections as our ultimate hope. Despite what we saw with the Democratic electoral wins in 2008 and the Tea Party backlash in 2010, nothing has really changed. It remains business as usual in the halls of Congress. As Dan Eggen, writing for the Washington Post, reports: “After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry … incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital’s culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records. Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories.”
Third, if our freedoms are to be maintained, we must become actively involved in local community affairs, politics and legal battles. As the adage goes, “Think globally, act locally.” America was meant to be primarily a system of local governments, which is a far cry from the colossal federal bureaucracy we have today. Understanding what is transpiring practically in your own backyard–in one’s home, neighborhood, school district, town council–and taking direct action at the local level must be the starting point.
Finally, we need to focus on the very real, pressing human needs in our communities and stop funding the war machine, which is not making America safer. These endless wars have succeeded in deepening the hatred of America among our foreign enemies, enriching the corporations who have a vested interest in seeing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, and impoverishing the lower and middle classes. All the while, 45 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009, with one out of every five children living in poverty; household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20% since last year, with a record 41 million Americans on food stamps; one out of every seven mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010; 28% of all U.S. households have at least one member that is looking for a full-time job; and the number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen over 60 percent in just the past year.
As Martin Luther King Jr. declared in 1967, one year before being assassinated: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
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The Change Manifesto: Join the Block by Block Movement to Remake America
by John W. Whitehead
Grasping for the Wind
by John W. Whitehead
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GM pigs: Green ham with your eggs?
In a small complex of nondescript barns set in the flat, snow-covered fields of Ontario is a scientific project which, some argue, represents the new frontier of a technology that could benefit millions of people around the world.
For others what is happening here is weird, dangerous science.
The pigs they are breeding could be among the first genetically modified farm animal to be approved for human consumption.
The huge controversy over the introduction of genetically modified crops is well documented, but this seems to take that debate a step further, and into even more troubled waters.
The project here is called Enviropig. The animals inside the clean, warm barns look like normal pigs and behave like normal pigs, but they are living, breathing wonders of modern science.
Each one contains genes from mice and E.coli bacteria, which have been inserted into their DNA with absolute precision.
Those genes make a small but important difference to the way these pigs process their food.
Ordinarily, pigs cannot easily digest chemicals called phosphates. That means that the stuff that comes out of the back end can be toxic and damaging to the environment. The phosphates are easily washed into waterways, where they can produce a hugely fertile environment for plants. But the plants grow so rapidly that they choke the stream or river and cause huge damage to the ecosystem.
Between 50% and 75% of the phosphorus present in cereal grains including corn, soybeans, barley and wheat is present in an indigestible compound called phytate that passes through the pig's digestive tract. The Enviropig is a genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs with the capability of digesting plant phosphorus more efficiently than conventional Yorkshire pigs.
Professor Rich Moccia of the University of Guelph is proud of what has been achieved.
“It's the forefront of discovery in the scientific community. It's one of only two animals right now using this kind of technology. It really is mind-boggling when you think of it.”
But it is controversial. To those who have campaigned so long and hard against the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, the notion of genetically engineered animals, such as Enviropig and fast-growing GM salmon, is a new front in a long war.
In Toronto, the Big Carrot supermarket is among the few GM-free outposts in North America. They have been fighting for years to hold back the tidal wave of genetically modified produce.
For anti-GM campaigner Lucy Sharratt, the very notion of transgenic animals is a nightmare.
“This is an absolutely critical time when North America is at the very centre of the global conflict over genetically engineered animals – to break open a whole new area of application of this technology, which we had never imagined would be possible.
“I am very worried and I think people around the world should be worried about what's happening in North America,” she says.
Clearly the debate remains deeply polarised. But there are also some indications that the debate may be slowly shifting.
Dr Mart Gross, of the University of Toronto, used to oppose the idea of GM crops and animals. Now he has changed his mind. Feeding the human population, he says, must come first, and GM animals and plants may help.
“We need to double food production,” he says. “We currently have a global population of almost seven billion and we are looking at nine, 10 or 11 billion by 2050.
“Where is that food going to come from? We have to produce more from less.”
The inventors of Enviropig know that it is by no means certain that government regulators will ever approve GM animals for human consumption.
But the massive challenge of feeding a rocketing global population, and doing it in a sustainable way, could shift the debate and ultimately dictate whether Enviropigs end up on our dinner plates.
The Fed acknowledged the improving outlook, but said the programme – dubbed QE2 – would continue.
There had been some speculation that the Fed might scale back its stimulus measures given improved economic data.
Factory order figures, also released on Tuesday, showed a return to growth.
The commerce department said orders rose 0.7% in November, following a decline in October.
QE2 is the second round of quantative easing, the policy of creating money to pump into the economy to stimulate growth.
The Fed minutes from its 14 December policy meeting revealed that “the pace and size of the overall purchase programme” would depend on the strength of the recovery.
“However, some members indicated that they had a fairly high threshold for making changes to the programme,” the notes said.
“While the economic outlook was seen as improving, members generally felt that the change in outlook was not sufficient to warrant any adjustments.”
The Fed pointed to the stubbornly high unemployment rate of almost 10%, and continued weakness in the housing market.
It also questioned the strength of consumer spending among poorer households.
“There were indications that retail spending by middle and lower-income households had risen less than spending by high-income households, suggestive of ongoing financial pressures on those of more modest means,” the notes said.
Hay peeps. I know I missed last week, I was too busy floating around and pondering what kind of product Destin uses in his hair. Pomade? Wax? Gel? LIFES IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.
Anywhoozle, FFJD (http://fiftyfirstjdates.com, “Fifty First (J)Dates”) interviewed Robin Kasser, of Haute PR and tonight’s Millionaire Matchmaker ep for your eyeballs’ pleasure.
First, I will begin with Robin’s declaration of FFJD love: “I literally have fallen on the floor laughing while reading your live blogging of the Millionaire Matchmaker and am honored that you are interviewing me!”
Robin, we are just as happy to have you.
FFJD: What is Patti really like?
Robin Kassner: Patti is a barracuda in a minidress. She’s very blunt and doesn’t mince words. I admire her as a successful businesswoman who says what she means and tells it like it is. She’s a no-nonsense woman who excels at her field so I can relate to her in that respect.
She really does have an innate ability for matchmaking and I’ve recommended her services to many of my single friends.
FFJD: Do you think you were represented well or fairly?
RK: They filmed me for three weeks and then they spliced and diced it to create a compelling story. It’s a reality show on Bravo so their job in the editing room is to create maximum drama.
I haven’t seen the show yet but from the previews I would say I was portrayed in a way that communicated an exciting story. The previews make me look superficial but in real life I just a simple Connecticut girl making it in a big-city world.
FFJD: what was it like to go on a date on camera?
RK: I loved going on a date on camera. My life is like a TV show anyway, so having a film crew around was kind of like second nature. It’s hard to get to know your date with a camera crew right there. It’s like a romantic, candlelit dinner with you, your date and 30 of your closest friends!
FFJD: Are you still dating the guy you chose for your master date?
You have to watch the show to find out.
FFJD: Who do you like more, Destin or Rachel? Did you get to meet their baby?
RK: I really like Destin. He is supersweet and let’s face it, the man has a fabulous head of hair! He tried to put me at ease before I had to talk to Patti at my mixer.
I didn’t get a chance to meet their baby Sin Halo or talk with Rachel as much but she seems like a sultry retro 50′s pinup and I think Destin and Rachel make a cute alterna-couple.
FFJD: What’s a mixer really like?
RK: Some people would be intimidated by walking into a room full of people they don’t know. At Haute PR, I attend parties for a living, so it is second-nature to me. I walked in, Patti said, “Meet my Millionaires” and I said “Hi Guys” and I had arrived.
I was born to go on mixers. It felt surreal like I was on an episode of The Bachelor. I wasn’t sure if I would find true love at the mixer, but I figured the worst thing that would happen is I would walk away with a bunch of new friends.
I still hang out with many of the people from the Millionaire Matchmaker and many are close friends.
Robin has not seen the episode, but she sent us her thoughts on Patti calling her “delusional”:
Patti called me delusional and I took it as a compliment. Truly successful people HAVE to be somewhat delusional. Only delusional people change the world. Being realistic is the easiest path to mediocrity. People thought getting in a metal tube and flying around the world was unrealistic, but the Wright Brothers didn’t think so. People thought flicking a switch and filling the room with light was delusional, but Thomas Edison didn’t think so. As a young woman, I run one of the most successful beauty and fashion PR firms in New York, I own a fabulous apartment in Manhattan, I drive a Mercedes and live the life I love. Most people would think those goals were delusional, but luckily, I am go after my dreams.
For more information on Robin Kassner, CEO of Haute PR, go to Hautpr.com and follow Haute on Facebook and Twitter.
ALSO, LIVE BLOG OR RECAP, DEPENDING ON MY MOOD, TONIGHT AT 9pm!
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Are we running out of oil? According to the New York Times, apparently not. The paper of record ran two articles in close proximity over the holiday week, both of which regale us with stories of how wrong all those silly “Malthusian pessimists” have been.
First, John Tierney gloated about his 2005 bet with the leading voice for peak oil theory, investor Matthew Simmons (who, sadly, died in August). Tierney wagered $5,000 that oil would not average more than $200 per barrel in 2010. It was a bet that harkened back to the famous Simon-Ehlich Wager between Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon. Their bet began in 1980 and focused on whether the prices of five commodity metals would rise over 10 years.
Simon ended up winning — prices were actually lower in 1990, not radically higher as Ehrlich predicted. In the modern bet, supply optimism won again: Tierney was right, and oil averaged only $71 in 2005 dollars.
The second article last week declared that “Oil Bulls Should Take a Closer Look at Supply.” After poking fun at Goldman Sachs’ 2008 prediction that oil would hit $200 by now, the author points out how much oil the world is still finding.
So we should feel warm and fuzzy about not facing vast energy shortages, right?
I’d say no, since both of these articles are shockingly negligent in what they don’t talk about. The debate about moving away from fossil fuels is not just a battle between resource optimism and gloomy pessimism. Or even between economic triumphalism and the harsh reality of pressure on all resources as a billion people enter the middle class (see the recent concerns about the availability of rare earth metals, for example).
No, this is about much larger issues. Even if you skip over the risks of fossil-fuel extraction (BP spill, anyone?), or the cost to business of relying on volatilely-priced inputs, how can you discuss oil and not even mention two rather inconvenient, but enormous, problems: climate change and global security.
Let’s say you still deny the role of fossil fuels in radically changing the climate that our species evolved in. OK, fine. But how can you ignore the fact that our continued use of oil props up — as Thomas Friedman calls them — “petro-dictators” around the world.
As former CIA Director Jim Woolsey often points out, most pointedly in the pages of the Wall Street Journal last year, we’re currently “financing both sides in our war with radical Islam.” Woolsey calculates that when oil hits $125 per barrel (which, even with the Canadian oil sands and other new supplies, is an extremely likely outcome), half the wealth in the world will be controlled by OPEC nations.
So are we really running out of oil? I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter. We’re crazy to rely on it for any longer than we absolutely have to.
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Though WikiLeaks documents have illuminated the underhanded foreign policy shenanigans of governments world-wide, the cables also demonstrate that many states are intent on halting meaningful progress on the environment. Previously, I discussed how the U.S., as well as other emerging powers such as Brazil, sought to derail international climate change negotiations. In light of recent cables, however, it’s clear that these revelations merely represent the beginning of larger disclosures. From the South Atlantic to the South Pacific, governments are paranoid about environmentalists and worry that activists might get in the way of inhumane or polluting industries.
Take, for example, cables relating to the Falkland Islands. A remote archipelago located in the South Atlantic, the Falklands, or Malvinas as the Argentines refer to the islands, has long been a disputed territory. When Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, the British fended off the attack in a brief but bloody war which cost 650 Argentine and 250 British lives. During the conflict, the U.S. backed Britain over the Argentine military junta. Since then, tensions have calmed but erupted again in early 2010 when Argentina protested imminent hydrocarbon development in territorial waters which Buenos Aires claimed fell squarely within its own legal jurisdiction. The exploration would be led by the British though an American company, Diamond Offshore Drilling, would also be involved in the effort.
According to WikiLeaks cables, the British had grown concerned about Argentine threats and were unsure how far the Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner government might press its claims.
Speaking at the United Nations, Kirchner said that the Falklands still represented “a colonial enclave” in the south Atlantic. Chiming in, Venezuelan President Hugo Chvez, a Kirchner ally, remarked “Get out of there, give the Malvinas back to the Argentine people. Enough already with the [British] empire.” In an effort to ascertain how Argentina might react to oil exploration off the Falkland Islands, including possible military actions, Secretary of State Clinton wrote the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires in early 2010. Clinton was particularly concerned about possible Venezuelan military involvement in the Falklands imbroglio.
While the geopolitical and military intrigue was interesting, what particularly grabbed my attention in the Falklands cables was this particular line: “Their [the British] concern is over the shape of future sanctions on companies as well as threats and protests against energy companies operating in the Falklands by NGOs, including environmental activists[my italics].” The cables, then, shed rare insight onto the British perspective and suggest that the authorities were as concerned with environmental protest as they were with Argentine retaliation.
Just what are the environmental stakes in the Falklands, and why would the British be so concerned with local protest? The Falklands archipelago is an important part of the wildlife equation in the South Atlantic. South Jason, an island about four miles long, supports populations of black-browed albatross (also known as mollymawks), endangered rockhopper penguin, Magellanic penguin, and prions (a small white seabird similar to a petrel).
At the time of the Falklands confrontation, I wrote a rather lengthy piece about these vital issues, analyzing in particular the plight of the Magellanic penguin which spends half the year in and around the Falklands, Argentina and southern Chile. In recent years, there’s been massive petroleum development in the Southern Atlantic including Patagonia, and scientists have grown increasingly concerned about oil pollution and its effects on the penguins. As they ingest oil from preening their feathers, the penguins’ immune systems are put at risk and the animals become more prone to disease. What’s more, the oil gives rise to lesions in the penguins’ stomachs and as a result the animals have difficulty digesting food.
Needless to say, it is difficult to see how the longstanding territorial dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, which is now being exacerbated by oil rivalry, will increase environmental protection for local penguins. If the WikiLeaks cables are any indication, Britain is determined to get at offshore oil, even if that means antagonizing the environmental community. Such narrow mindedness is certainly deplorable, but perhaps not too surprising given that up to 60 billion barrels of oil may lie near the Falklands.
News of the WikiLeaks cables certainly doesn’t come as any great consolation to groups like the Organization for the Conservation of Penguins or Falklands Conservation. Moreover, in the event that environmentalists launched a concerted campaign in the south Atlantic to halt oil exploration, the authorities could rely on a local airfield at Port Stanley which is equipped with Typhoon jets. In addition, the Royal Navy has deployed a submarine and other vessels to the area. What lengths would officials resort to in order to protect oil development? Hopefully, the Brits would not escalate like the French, who bombed and sunk the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 in an effort to deter protest over nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
As it turns out, making the connection between the South Atlantic and Pacific is not entirely unfounded. Other recent cables disclosed by WikiLeaks reveal that, to this day, scheming governments will stop at nothing when it comes to deterring environmental protest in remote areas of the globe. In 2009, the U.S. and Japanese governments discussed taking action to weaken the well known anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd. The activists, whose ships routinely confront whalers on the high seas, have long been a thorn in the side of the Japanese government. Seeking to appease Tokyo, the Americans discussed revoking Sea Shepherd’s tax exempt status in the United States.
While it’s unclear whether the U.S. government ever followed up on the matter, the mere fact that the two powers held high level discussions about Sea Shepherd will surely give pause to environmentalists. Indeed, if activists had any doubts about the true intentions of the world’s most powerful governments, WikiLeaks documents have certainly laid any such uncertainty to rest. Far from demonstrating any regard for marine wildlife and protection, diplomats confer amongst themselves about the threat posed by environmentalists. In the final analysis, it may be the Magellanic penguins and South Pacific whales that pay the highest price for this cynical diplomacy.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008) and No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave, 2010). Visit his website, www.nikolaskozloff.com
The so-called SHIELD Act, which has been introduced in both Houses of Congress, would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States,” any classified information… concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States or… concerning the identity of a classified source or informant” who is working with the intelligence community of the United States.
Although this Act may well be constitutional as applied to a government employee who unlawfully “leaks” such material to persons who are unauthorized to receive it, it is plainly unconstitutional as applied to other individuals or organizations who might publish or otherwise disseminate the information after it has been leaked. With respect to such other speakers, the Act violates the First Amendment unless, at the very least, it is expressly limited to situations in which the dissemination of the specific classified information at issue poses a clear and present danger of grave harm to the nation.
The clear and present danger standard, in varying forms, has been a central element of our First Amendment jurisprudence ever since Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes first enunciated it in his 1919 opinion in Schenk v. United States. In the 90 years since Schenck, the precise meaning of “clear and present danger” has evolved, but the principle that animates the standard was stated eloquently by Justice Louis D. Brandeis in his brilliant 1927 concurring opinion in Whitney v. California:
This principle is especially powerful in the context of government efforts to suppress speech concerning the activities of the government itself, for as James Madison observed, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.” As Madison warned, if citizens do not know what their own government is doing, then they are hardly in a position to question its judgments or to hold their elected representatives accountable. Government secrecy, although sometimes surely necessary, can also pose a direct threat to the very idea of self-governance.
Nonetheless, the First Amendment does not compel government transparency. It leaves the government extraordinary autonomy to protect its own secrets. It does not accord anyone the right to have the government disclose information about its actions or policies and it cedes to the government considerable authority to restrict the speech of its own employees. What it does not do, however, is leave the government free to suppress the free speech of others when it has failed itself to keep its own secrets. At that point, the First Amendment kicks in with full force, and, as Brandeis explained, only an emergency can justify suppression.
We might think of this like the attorney-client privilege. The client is free to keep matters secret by disclosing them to no one. He is also free to disclose certain matters to his attorney, who is under a legal obligation to respect the confidentiality of her client’s disclosures. In this sense, the attorney is like the government employee. If the attorney violates the privilege by revealing the client’s confidences to a reporter, the attorney can be punished, but the newspaper cannot constitutionally be punished for disseminating the information.
Now, some may wonder whether it makes sense to give the government so little authority to punish the dissemination of unlawfully leaked information. But there are very good reasons for insisting on a showing of clear and present danger before the government can punish speech in this context.
First, the mere fact that the dissemination of such information might, in the words of the proposed SHIELD Act, “in any manner prejudice the interests of the United States,” does not in any way mean that that harm outweighs the benefit of publication. In many circumstances, such information may be extremely valuable to public understanding.
Second, a case-by-case balancing of harm against benefit would be unwieldy, unpredictable, and impracticable. Clear rules are essential in the realm of free speech, and that is one reason why we grant the government so much authority to restrict the speech of its own employees.
Third, the reasons why government officials want secrecy are many and varied. They range from the truly compelling to the patently illegitimate. Human nature being what it is, public officials who want secrecy for questionable reasons are often tempted to “justify” their demand for secrecy by putting forth exaggerated, and even disingenuous, justifications. The clear and present danger standard requires the government to clear a high bar to restrict speech, in part to avoid squabbles about the “real” government interest.
Fourth, as we have learned from our own history, there are great pressures that lead both government officials and the public to overstate the potential harm of publication in times of national anxiety. A strict clear and present danger standard serves as a barrier to protect us against this danger.
And finally, a central principle of the First Amendment is that the suppression of public speech must be the government’s last rather than its first resort in addressing a potential problem. If there are other means by which government can prevent or reduce the danger, it must exhaust those other means before it can suppress the freedom of speech.
In the secrecy situation, the most obvious way for government to prevent the danger is by ensuring that information that must be kept secret is not leaked in the first place. Indeed, the Supreme Court made this very point quite clearly in its 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper, in which the Court held that when an individual receives information “from a source who has obtained it unlawfully,” that individual may not be punished for publicly disseminating the information “absent a need of the highest order.”
The Court explained that if “the sanctions that presently attach to [the underlying criminal act] do not provide sufficient deterrence,” then “perhaps those sanctions should be made more severe,” but “it would be quite remarkable to hold” that an individual can constitutionally can be punished merely for disseminating information because the government failed to “deter conduct by a non-law-abiding third party.”
This may seem a disorderly situation, but the Court has come to a sound solution. If we grant the government too much power to punish those who disseminate information, then we risk too great a sacrifice of public deliberation; if we grant the government too little power to control confidentiality “at the source,” then we risk too great a sacrifice of secrecy.
The solution is thus to reconcile the irreconcilable values of secrecy and accountability by guaranteeing both a strong authority of the government to prohibit leaks and an expansive right of others to disseminate information to the public.
The bottom line is this: The proposed SHIELD Act is plainly unconstitutional. At the very least, it must limit its prohibition to those circumstances in which the individual who publicly disseminates classified information knew that the dissemination would create a clear and present danger of grave harm to our nation or its people.
A version of this was published in the New York Times on January 4, 2011 under the title A Clear Danger to Free Speech.
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War and Liberty: An American Dilemma: 1790 to the Present
by Geoffrey R. Stone
Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism
by Geoffrey R. Stone
Supporters of Senate filibuster reform rallied Monday on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet sent representatives to speak. Among speakers were three state representatives, the city auditor, a Denver School Board member and a student Dream Act activist.
Hosted by Northwest Denver Organizing for America, the gathering focused on the numerous critical issues that have been held hostage in the Senate during the 111th Congress, due to obstruction resulting from abuse of Senate rules of filibuster to delay or deny debate on issues. Often a single senator has placed a secret hold on a piece of legislation or a nominee, a symptom of easy manipulation and inordinate power of corporate special interest lobbyists that supersede the interests of the people.
Though Senate rules were originally intended to permit substantive debate and to protect minority input, they were not intended as tools to obstruct the majority will. The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel notes that as majority leader in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson needed to file for cloture to end a filibuster only once, while during President Obama’s first two years, Harry Reid filed for cloture 84 times. Thus, the filibuster was used more in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined. Writes vanden Heuvel, “The filibuster was never intended to be wielded as a weapon of obstruction. Its current abuse was not contemplated by those who created it. Used this way, the filibuster does not just check the power of the majority; it cripples it. It is the very definition of minority tyranny, a concept as antithetical to democratic principles as any in the republic.”
More than 300 bills that were passed by the House during the 111th Congress were subsequently filibustered by minority Republicans in the Senate – among them, the Dream Act and immigration reform, collective bargaining, health care reform, unemployment benefits, economic reform, fair taxation, real job stimulus, alternative energy and climate change legislation, stem cell research, and the Disclose Act for transparency of exponentially increasing political contributions in the aftermath of Citizens United vs. FEC, which grants corporation unlimited expenditures on campaigns.
To begin to fix a broken system that serves a minority of big-money interests, the consensus of many organizing for real change is that the Senate must adopt new rules that allow the institution to work for the American people.
Citing “anti-democratic limitations on majority rule” that have paralyzed the Senate, Denver House District 2 Democrats at their November meeting unanimously drafted an open letter with over 100 signatures to Colorado’s senators and copied to Senator Harry Reid, urging action to reform Senate rules to end partisan gridlock during their narrow window of opportunity when the Senate reconvenes on January 5, 2011. Only on the first day of the new session can a rules change be made by a simple majority, without threat of filibustering the change of filibuster rules. These Denver Democrats endorsed Senate Resolution 619 introduced in September by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who has voiced his intention to call on the Senate to exercise its constitutional right to rule-making for that body, by a simple majority vote on the first day of the 112th Congress, rather than a two-thirds majority (67) required for rules change at other times.
All returning Democratic U.S. senators have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) citing unprecedented obstruction by minority Republicans during the 111th Congress and urging change of the filibuster rules. “We believe the current abuse of the rules by the minority threatens the ability of the Senate to do the necessary work of the nation, and we urge you to take steps to bring these abuses of our rules to an end,” reads the Dec. 18 letter to Sen. Reid signed by 56 Democrats and independents.
The organizers of the Colorado rally encourage everyone call to urge support for filibuster reform by Democratic senators, including Senator Reid, and Republican senators who might be persuaded – Sens. Olympia Snow, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Scott Brown. Urge them to begin to reverse the abuses of power in Washington by adopting new Senate rules on January 5. Call the toll-free number for Congress: 866-220-0044.
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Democracy Under Assault: TheoPolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right
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How seriously do Packers’ fans take their football? One fan wants to be buried in a green and gold casket with a tailgate picnic after her funeral. The team enters the playoffs this season amid a Vince Lombardi revival. Click link to read further.
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Another year, another 365 days worth of things to be sorry for.
But it’s hard for people to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s even harder for countries to do it.
And it’s harder still when countries have to say they’re sorry to women.
But let’s step back. And recognize that this past year, a number of countries have been sorry — or, emphatically not sorry — for a lot of big things.
A few weeks ago, discussions between Israel and Turkey got bogged down because mediators could not agree on whether Israel should apologize for killing nine Turkish aid workers during a flotilla raid in May.
Skipping over a continent, China and Japan spent much of the fall negotiating the release of a Chinese fishing captain who had been captured by Japanese authorities. At issue after the captain’s release: whether or not Japan must ask China for forgiveness.
And just last month, diplomats let out a great a sigh of relief when South Korea abandoned its demand that North Korea apologize for sinking a South Korean naval ship in March.
But it’s not just this past year’s wrongs that states are atoning for. 2010 was a monumental year for official apologies addressing long-ago, or longstanding cruelties.
In June, British Prime Minister David Cameron nabbed headlines by officially apologizing for the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” shooting of Irish demonstrators.
In October, the US apologized to Guatemala for purposefully infecting some 700 Guatemalans with venereal diseases between 1946-48.
Last month, Russia apologized for the 1940 massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners in the Katyn Forest.
And last summer, Japan apologized to South Korea for colonialism. Full stop.
And these are just the latest additions to a growing string.
In the last fifteen years or so, we’ve said sorry to aboriginal groups forced into residential schools (Canada) or split apart from their families (Australia). We’ve said sorry to countries invaded during war (Japan to South-East Asia, Serbia to Bosnia, Germany to…a lot of states). We’ve apologized for slavery (US, EU), for Apartheid (South Africa), for Colonialism (Japan), for the Holocaust (Germany), and for collaborating in the Holocaust (France). We’ve said sorry for revolutions gone awry (Russia), for genocide and for looking away while genocide was taking place (US, Canada). Our apologies are for isolated incidents (wars, murders, genocides) and for long-term, sustained systems of oppression (slavery, racial discrimination, oppressive political regimes). We’re sorry to Jews (Germany, Vatican, Switzerland), to migrant children (Australia, Britain), to Aboriginals (Canada, Australia), to political protesters (Britain), to and to homosexuals (Cuba, Germany).
And still, most states have failed to eek out a single ‘I’m sorry’ for women.
Do governments owe women an apology?
Over the last few years, women’s groups have been pushing reticent governments to acknowledge their role in specific acts of cruelty against women.
Japanese women forced to work as prostitutes during WWII (“comfort women”) continue their campaign for official recognition. Irish and Swiss women forced into state-run asylums for such spurious offenses as “social dysfunction” or sexual looseness are asking for formal apologies too.
In response, there has been a slow trickle of apologetic statements: dished out for forcible sterilization schemes, archaic women’s “re-education” programs, and wartime sexual assaults.
But what I’m talking about is an apology that has nothing to do with rape, sterilization, imprisonment, or torture.
I’m talking about an apology for the decades and centuries that women were simply treated like crap.
It’s interesting that while states have offered formal apologies to almost every conceivable group — for every conceivable wrong — no state has apologized wholeheartedly to its women, on behalf of its men.
I’m talking about an “I’m sorry” for years of denying women the vote, paying them less, shutting them out of some careers and pushing them into others. For maternity leave policies that held back professional mothers. For ‘Mommy-tracking.’ For unfair welfare policies and lopsided custody laws that chained women to unhappy marriages.
I’m talking about workplace discrimination, no-pants-allowed dress codes, male-only parliaments and presidencies and social clubs and businesses and universities.
Certainly there are disincentives for any country looking to apologize.
For one, ‘I’m sorry’ is often followed by demands for cash.
For instance: there are now reparation schemes in place for Holocaust victims, residential school victims, and internment camp prisoners.
But one of the reasons that US states and others have been hesitant to apologize for slavery is that they fear monetary demands from millions of living descendants. And so they’re careful about language.
The EU announced in 2001 that it would apologize for slavery only if Africa dropped calls for financial compensation.
In 2007, the state of Virginia passed a resolution expressing “profound regret [for] the involuntary servitude of Africans.” And Britain similarly deemed the transatlantic slave trade “profoundly shameful.” But neither offered a definitive apology.
“I’m sorry” can be expensive; for whatever reason, “I’m profoundly regretful” is not so costly.
But let’s get real. The likelihood of women banding together to demand compensation for centuries of discrimination is slim to none.
States haven’t apologized to women, largely, because we aren’t asking them to.
Because it’s become unfashionable to fight these same old, tired fights. It’s become banal to point out wage gaps. It’s become positively off-putting to mouth off about glass ceilings.
We make snarky demands for Sarah Palin, or Barack Obama, or Hip Hop or the writers of Sex and the City 2 to say sorry for their alleged affronts to womankind.
But it wasn’t even newsworthy when, just this month, a Joint Economic Committee report announced that American women earn 77 cents to the man’s dollar… the same as they earned 10 years ago. And that they make up less than 8% of top-earning executive officers. And that they face a 2.5% earnings penalty each time they have a child [fathers see a 2.1% earnings increase!].
People only apologize when there is anger or hurt to soothe. And nobody seems that upset or enraged about any of this.
The question of formal state apologies is complex, and many dismiss such apologies as empty tokens. But the point is that women have a right to demand and to receive those tokens. And the fact that such an apology is not even on the table tells us something.
The holidays might be a good time to reflect on all of this. After all, at 77 cents to the dollar, Holiday shopping will have been disproportionately expensive for women everywhere. That’s something to complain about.
Perhaps an apology — or at least some of that “profound regret” — would ease the pain.
As New Congress Embraces the Constitution Tea Partiers May Be Surprised to Learn That the Document Actually Favors Progressive Results
With the start of the 112th Congress, Tea Party activists are brimming with pride over the fact that the new House GOP leadership will kick off the legislative session with a reading of the Constitution on the House floor. As a progressive constitutionalist, I wholeheartedly agree with the Tea Party and incoming Speaker John Boehner that reading the entire Constitution on the House floor is a fantastic idea. I also agree with Boehner’s requirement that all bills in the House include a citation to the provision of the Constitution that supports the congressional power that would be exercised in the proposed legislation. But I am pretty sure that I am in complete disagreement with the Tea Party and its elected allies on where this focus on the Constitution will take us.
This is because, as renowned constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar recently told the Washington Post, when you “actually read the Constitution as a whole, it doesn’t say what the tea party folks think it says.” In fact, the Constitution as a whole is a remarkably progressive document.
You might have missed the progressive nature of our Constitution’s text and history in the whirlwind of Tea Party rhetoric this past year. According to the “Constitution According to the Tea Party,” the central government is weak and incapable of addressing national issues such as health care reform, environmental protection, and financial system reform. But the Tea Party’s version of the Constitution has far more in common with the failed Articles of Confederation–the dysfunctional, loose confederacy that was in place between 1776 and the Constitutional Convention of 1787–than with our actual, enduring U.S. Constitution.
To be sure, the powers of the federal government under our Constitution are not unlimited–the Constitution establishes a central government of enumerated powers, and our States play a vital role in our federalist system–but the powers our charter does grant to the federal government are broad and substantial. And, since the Founding, the American people have amended the Constitution to ensure that Congress has all the tools it needs to address national problems and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. Eight separate amendments expanded the enumerated powers of the federal government, giving vast powers to the government to protect equality, civil rights, and voting rights, and to raise funds through taxes on income. Many Tea Partiers disdain these Amendments–or even want to repeal them–but they are just as much a part of the Constitution as the language written in 1787. When the new members of Congress are sworn in this week, they will swear to uphold the entire Constitution, not just the parts written in the 18th century.
So when members of the House read the entire Constitution this week, we should all follow along, and members of the House should embrace the requirement that they cite constitutional authority for proposed legislation. Prominent progressive commentators such as E.J. Dionne and Greg Sargent have correctly noted that progressives should welcome a battle with the Tea Party over the Constitution. A great way to do this would be for members of the House to use these constitutional authority statements to tell the progressive story of our Constitution. Here are a few constitutional grants of authority to Congress that could be used to support key progressive policies (this short list is by no means exhaustive, and I encourage suggestions for other provisions and policies in the comments):
The “Power to lay and collect Taxes” to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States” (article I, section 8), which gives the federal government broad authority to further national policies, such as ensuring health care for the poor (Medicaid) and provide security for older Americans (Social Security).
The power to establish “an uniform rule of Naturalization” (art. I, 8), which means that only Congress can enact immigration reform, and also that state anti-immigration laws, like Arizona’s SB 1070, are an unconstitutional infringement of Congress’s exclusive power to regulate immigration.
The power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States” (art. I, 8), which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, for example, the national health care industry.
The crucial power to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper” (art. I, 8) for carrying out all constitutional powers granted to the federal government, which means, for example, that Congress can require individuals who can afford it to obtain health insurance in order to carry out its authority to regulate the interstate health insurance industry and ensure affordable, non-discriminatory health care.
The power “to enforce, by appropriate legislation” (amendment XIV, 5) the provisions of the 14th Amendment, provisions that guarantee birthright citizenship; protect the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” (which were understood by the framers to include personal liberties such as the right to marry and form a family); require “due process of law,” and guarantee the “equal protection of the laws” (amendment XIV, 1). This text provides Congress with constitutional authority to enact profoundly progressive legislation, for example, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, or outlawing certain hate crimes.
The power to “enforce . . . by appropriate legislation” the right of U.S. citizens to vote free from discrimination based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (amendment XV) or “on account of sex” (amendment XIX), which gives Congress the authority to enact measures such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (lately under constant attack in the courts).
Reading the entire Constitution, as the House will do this week, leaves the unmistakable impression that our constitutional story is inherently progressive. “We the People” have taken a great but deeply flawed original national charter and made it even greater–creating an even “more perfect union”–by writing into our Constitution, through the amendment process, the abolition of slavery, expanded democracy, and fundamental equality and liberty. Because the text and history of our Constitution are fundamentally progressive, there is no need for those on the left to shy away from Speaker Boehner’s requirement that all bills contain a citation to the constitutional grant of authority that allows the proposed legislation. Progressives should cheer the new Republican-led House’s embrace of the Constitution–and hold all members of Congress to their oath to be faithful to it, all of it.
While the traditional media and the United States government continue to fixate on the individual Julian Assange, a not so subtle cultural shift is taking root worldwide: Hacktivist culture is rapidly morphing from a small underground subculture into mainstream culture for a younger generation, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did not start this cultural movement, but they have served as a catalyst for its robust growth and worldwide propagation. And while the new generation of hacktivists has Wikileaks as its model, they also grew up in the era of George W. Bush’s neo-imperialism and its attendant war against transparency. WikiLeaks is the answer to the age of W, and it has given rise to what I call Generation W.
Perhaps the surest sign of the mainstreaming of hacktivism was when 4chan underwent a metamorphosis from a group of kids trading anime and lolcat images and occasionally trolling for lulz into a potent political hacktivist movement, quite willing and able to take Mastercard and the Bank of America offline for refusing to process payments to WikiLeaks.
Of course, 4chan’s “Operation Payback” was originally motivated by the draconian actions of lawyers trying to advance bogus copyright claims, but their basic underlying principle was the same hacktivist ethic motivating their defense of WikiLeaks: information wants to be free; it should not be hoarded by powerful nation states, nor should it be under the control of powerful commercial interests.
The 4chan actions that have received attention in the media have involved the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Mastercard and Bank of America, but there have been smaller and much more telling episodes in which young people with 4chan backgrounds have created their own hacktivist operations and deployed them with impressive effect.
In one recent case, reported in my essay “Watching the Watchers: Power and Politics in Second Life” a group of Woodbury University students affiliated with 4Chan created a group called “The Wrong Hands” (as in “if this information should find its way into the wrong hands…”). They subsequently infiltrated an online vigilante group that was operating inside of the virtual world Second Life. The vigilante group (known as the JLU) was exposed as having an extensive surveillance operation in Second Life — one that tracked individuals in the virtual world and kept files on those individuals. Indeed, their database contained 1,700 pages of information and misinformation on users, ranging from chat logs, to presumed real life information about Second Life users.
Once the Wrong Hands infiltrated the JLU, they leaked the contents of the JLU database, posting it in many locations online. Shockingly, the leaked evidence suggested that the JLU surveillance activities were being backed by employees of Linden Lab (the company that owns Second Life), and further that Linden Lab employees were providing the JLU with special technical capabilities that could facilitated their surveillance operation.
In a later development, The Wrong Hands exposed the shady past of the key programmers of a software company (Modular Systems), which was developing a viewer for Second Life (a viewer is the interface program that people use on their home computers to mediate their interactions with the virtual world). These programmers were exposed by the Wrong Hands as having backgrounds not only in writing malicious code, but also other activities that violated the terms of service — in particular, theft of intellectual property. The Wrong Hands subsequently uncovered an even bigger surveillance/data mining operation conducted through the Modular Systems’s viewer. The company, which had several former Linden Lab employees on staff, folded shortly after the expos.
No one is saying that the operations exposed by the Wrong Hands were equivalent to the Afghan War documents or the State Department cables exposed by Wikileaks; the real moral is not the importance of the exposed information, but rather the fact that the Wikileaks operation could provide a model for a new generation of hacktivists. Wikileaks is teaching young people by example.
Assange may eventually be incarcerated or worse, but the genie is definitely out of the bottle at this point. There is no question but that hacktivist culture is now a worldwide phenomenon. The interesting question is not whether hacktivist culture will change our world. The interesting question now is what our world will look like after it is reshaped by hacktivist culture. Will corrupt businesses be exposed and put out of business? Will governments be forced to be more transparent? Will they collapse from the cost of expending energy on protecting their closed networks? Or will hacktivism lead to more secretive and insular governments? One thing is clear: things are not going to stay the same.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, apparently burdened by a parochial ideology that overwhelms his reasoning ability, has recently repeated his idea that tyranny of the majority is acceptable in our democracy as long as the victims of that tyranny are not specifically protected by our Constitution.
The problem is that this is not a joke–it’s serious business and potentially dangerous. Justice Scalia seems to have forgotten that the American Revolution was a revolution against tyranny of any kind and not a revolution to install a tyranny of the majority.
Maybe he can be forgiven his forgetfulness, since most Americans also forget. We have an inclination to ignore or deny history, a truly dangerous habit.
To carry Justice Scalia’s proposition to its absurd conclusion, it would, according to Justice Scalia, be perfectly in accord with the Constitution to have laws passed legalizing the killing, cooking, and eating of women and children simply because women and children have no explicit specific protection in the Constitution’s articles and amendments. According to Justice Scalia, if the majority decides to enact such legislation, so be it. He would not oppose it. Ipse dixit.
Tyranny is a social madness, whether it occurs, as it did recently, in Cambodia, the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany–or whether it occurs on a small scale in the nuclear family. In Ancient Rome, for example, the father of any household had the legal right to kill any of his children at will–no reasons necessary, no questions asked.
My favorite example of the madness of tyranny occurred in France shortly before the American and French Revolutions. In the mid-18th century, the punishment of lunatics who broke the rules revealed the essence of French society under the monarchy. In the year 1757, Louis XV, forty-seven years old, was King of France. On Wednesday, January 5th, as the king was about the enter his carriage outside his Versailles palace, Robert-Franois Damiens, a forty-two year old unemployed domestic servant, rushed toward the king and lightly stabbed him with a knife. The wound was minor and Damiens made no attempt to escape. He stood there babbling something and he was quickly arrested.
After his arrest, Damiens, by all accounts quite mad, was tried and condemned as a regicide (though an unsuccessful regicide), and sentenced by the French parliament (a majority!) to be “taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds, and then in the said cart to the Palace de Grve, where on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs, and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand holding the knife with which he committed the said regicide burned with sulfur, and on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulfur melted together, and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses, and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds.”
All of this was done, an elaborate spectacle of death in public. His insanity did not save Damiens. After his legs and arms had been pulled away by the horses, Damiens was apparently still alive and moving his mouth as his trunk was thrown on the fire.
We need to remember that in Europe this was the age of Voltaire, Diderot, Mozart, Handel, and other talents of the Enlightenment, the so-called century of rational thought.
The execution of Damiens was publicly witnessed by rich and poor, royalty and commoners. The event took four hours and was given extensive reportage in all the capitals of Europe. The memoirist Giacomo Casanova was at the scene, wrote that he had to turn his face away and cover his ears against the shrieks of the victim, although he did see members of the Royal Court who “did not budge an inch.” Everywhere in Europe, Damiens was labeled “a lunatic”–but nowhere was the manner of his death lamented, at least not in public. A pamphlet published in England soon afterward said of Damiens’ lunacy: “Of all sorts of madness, this appears to be the worst.”
No. Of all sorts of madness, tyranny is definitely the worst–and of all forms of tyranny, tyranny of the majority is definitely the most dangerous.
Justice Antonin Scalia has it wrong, definitely wrong, and his words are an embarrassment.
(Part of the above essay is adapted from the book Autism: Aspects of a Medical Riddle, by Dan Agin, 2011.)
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by Dan Agin
Picking up a copy of the English-language Daily Star in Beirut this summer, I was struck by the lead story. A photo of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, flanked by his Arab counterparts, accompanied this huge headline: “Arab Nations Applaud Turkey’s Erdogan for Tough Stand on Israel.”
What a truly pitiful sight it was.
What is it about the psyche of Arab leaders and nationals that prevents them from making the same “stand,” I wondered?
In part, just as an observer, it is clear to me that there is still a strong stench of “defeatism” that lingers heavily in the air around much of the Arab Mideast — a negativity that has been canonized in works of literature and has become deeply embedded in Arab public discourse, including commentary, mass media — and even academic conferences, where more critical thinking should prevail.
Knowing that the Arabs are busy creating their own cages, the increasingly right-wing and militant Israeli political body seems to eke out its latest appalling policies a little at a time to train us collectively to accept a new bar for bad behavior. Arabs protest in one loud shout, then defeatedly scurry back to an ever-shrinking existence.
Non-Arab Turkey and Iran
This condition does not afflict the Iranians or the Turks. Innovative and proud in the face of western attempts to isolate it, and US/Israeli attempts to define it, Iran has managed to forge its own path based on perceived national interests, and churns out world-class achievements in many fields:
A 2010 Canadian report on “geo-political shift in knowledge creation” claims scientific output has grown 11 times faster in Iran than the world average, faster than any other country (Turkey ranks high in the data, too). Progress in science, medicine and technology outpaces most developing nations — whether in AIDS research, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetics, nuclear technology or aerospace. Iran’s remarkable film industry generates award-winning art films the world around — in Venice, Cannes and Toronto. The Islamic Republic of Iran has crafted such a creative healthcare system to deal with critical problems like infant and maternal mortality that the state of Mississippi has requested special permission from the US Department of State to bring in Iranian experts to teach them how to do the same. When sanctions are slapped on Tehran, Iranian entrepreneurs manufacture the banned goods themselves. When the Afghani and Pakistani drug trade seems to overwhelm Iran’s borders, the Islamist government shrugs off religious myopia and sets up needle exchange programs, free methadone prescriptions, and the distribution of condoms to promote safe sex. Proactive, self-preserving behaviors serving a self-defined national interest — not something you see often in the Arab world.
Turkey defies all stereotypes as a Muslim-majority country on the edge of the Middle East. A staunchly secular nation as defined by its constitution, it has nevertheless demonstrated genuine democracy by allowing the participation of a progressive, Islamist-leaning political party. It is ironic that this party has been the one to make the groundbreaking, democratizing improvements in its political structures to facilitate its bid to join the EU, an effort backed by Washington. Turkey is as much at ease with the US, Russia and China as it is with Iran, Brazil and India, and has redefined the possibilities of global diplomacy as it inserts itself proactively into power-brokering conflicts the world around. A major tourist destination and now a real economic hub in the various regions it borders, Turkey too has carved its own destiny, independent of others, yet in tight cooperation with all.
So what happened to the Arabs? Is it the use of the collective term “Arab” that waters down this ethnic group’s possibilities? Surely if they were only defined as Algerians, Lebanese, Tunisians, Kuwaitis, Jordanians, it would be easier to break out of a pack malaise? Or do they have to get even smaller — Bedouins, Hashemites, Christians, Druze, Alawites, etc.?
Assassinated Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir once wrote that Arabs are “haunted by a sense of powerlessness”:
And this is the crux of the matter. The Arab has been defined by the Other. So successfully in fact, that most Arabs speak amongst themselves using a narrative that has been constructed by others, external to the region.
To be sure, there is a local defeatist industry that has sprung up organically from lost wars, corrupt systems and bad leadership, but it is perpetuated by the impotence that comes from this Other narrative.
What do I mean? Let’s focus on the discourse surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a prime example:
Language to Tame and Control
The United States and Israel have created the global discourse on this longstanding and contentious dispute. They have set stringent parameters that grow increasingly narrow regarding the content and direction of this debate. And anything discussed outside the set parameters has, until recently, widely been viewed as unrealistic, unproductive and even subversive.
Participation in the debate is limited only to those who prescribe to the tenets of the discourse — in this case, it is the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Jordanians, Egyptians, Saudis, and a smattering of other “defeatist” Arab leaders who are happy to serve our interests over theirs.
These tenets include the acceptance of Israel, its regional hegemony and its qualitative military edge, acceptance of the shaky logic upon which the Jewish state’s claim to Palestine is based, and acceptance of the inclusions and exclusion of certain regional parties, movements and governments in any solution to the conflict.
Words are the Building Blocks of Psychology
The language parameters that come into play to shape the discourse are largely based on these three tenets, although undoubtedly there are others. Words like dove, hawk, militant, extremist, moderates, terrorists, Islamo-fascists, rejectionists, existential threat, holocaust-denier, mad mullah determine the participation of solution partners — and are capable of instantly excluding others.
Then there is the language that preserves “Israel’s Right To Exist” unquestioningly: anything that invokes the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and the myths about historic Jewish rights to the land described as Eretz Yisrael. This language seeks not only to ensure that a Jewish connection to Palestine remains unquestioned, but importantly, seeks to punish and marginalize those who tackle the legitimacy of this modern colonial-settler experiment.
And finally, there is the language that suggests Israel’s “value” to the world: Americans often cite “common” or “shared” values, or “Judeo-Christian” values, the “only democracy in the Middle East,” a bulwark against Islamism (which increasingly addresses all Muslims), tyranny, autocratic rulers and native savagery — for which many other terms and nefarious concepts are invoked, i.e., suicide-bombers, Palestinian lack of value for life, willingness to sacrifice their children, human rights violations rampant in the Arab and Islamic worlds, etc.
Further to these three main areas where parameters have been effectively set, there are concepts and language that have been institutionalized through international agreements and conditions determined by the “powers that be.” Whether it is refusing to deal with parties who do not accept Israel, Quartet principles, renunciation of violence — or — the stream of US-brokered agreements starting from Madrid to Oslo, Annapolis and so forth — these concepts create further hurdles that seem impossible to counter, so often are they repeated in Washington, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and elsewhere.
In effect, the US, Israel and a small, largely powerless coterie of others have created insurmountable parameters in dealing with the Palestinian-Israel issue within the international arena. Yes, that means no peace ever, just a pressure-free Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. This is the only “game” in town.
But that is only so long as this narrative is allowed to continue.
The New Middle East
And suddenly that change is here. The handful of Arabs that have raised a new vocabulary are a mixed lot, with different political leanings, historical experiences and religious traditions. But they bring with them a psychology of potential — or as we may call it, the “audacity of hope” — the first time since the nationalist leadership of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser that the views of influential Arab leaders actually resonate with the public masses.
It is the first transformative post-Cold War shift the region has seen in its centers of influence and power. A development almost entirely lost on think tankers and policy wonks in Washington — and within the Middle East’s old guard who cling to yesterday’s narratives for their very legitimacy.
From Qatar to Hezbollah to Syria, we are now seeing a language of “pride” — a desire to forge a new narrative of possibilities. These entities are not complaining about the status quo — economic, political, social stagnation — they are offering solutions.
And not grandiose, hard to live up to remedies, but incremental, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other problem busters. They are crossing borders to solicit assistance, utilizing public and private diplomacy to characterize their new direction, and employing collective strategies to strengthen their hand.
Trade is increasing with “value” partners — like-minded nations interested in creating clout through commerce and broadening political independence through market diversification.
Take a look at Qatar. A tiny Arab nation in the Persian Gulf with a native population of less than 300,000 and huge gas reserves, Doha has done the unthinkable. The largest US military base in the region is stationed there alongside arguably the least censored major media outlet in both the East and West, Al Jazeera — and it will be hosting the first World Cup in the entire Middle East in 2022. Outpacing staunch US ally Saudi Arabia in leaps and bounds, the Qataris have adopted women’s suffrage, introduced a new Constitution, established education as a cornerstone of their growth strategy (Georgetown University and Cornell now have campuses there), are diversifying their economy well beyond dependency on energy resources, and even opened limited relations with Israel until the Gaza war put a swift end to that goodwill gesture. A homegrown vision and a determination to act in its own interest — not some fantasy, regional, brotherhood lockstep — is what drives Qatar and others who embrace new narratives in the Middle East.
The narratives now taking hold in the region will create innovative, homegrown solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, broken governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, arms control, nuclear proliferation, Salafist extremism, water rights, human rights, representative government, refugee crises, economic growth, border issues and other impediments to real progress.
It was not Washington’s input that was necessary to form governments in Lebanon and Iraq after elections — the deals were struck with the assistance of Riyadh, Damascus and Tehran. And it will not be the State Department that will ultimately solve the Palestine-Israeli issue either. I predict an entirely homegrown solution to that enduring conflict — the idea will come from the region, if not the enforcing of it.
Importantly, the new narratives have opened up “possibilities” already. We are seeing this in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain recently — populations suddenly deciding that they will strive for change; that the status quo has not served them well. Local corruption and economic, political and social decay are the root causes of this popular dissent, but it would be foolish not to recognize that these have been fueled by a new “chutzpah” derived from watching uncensored news (Al Jazeera) for the first time — or bursting with pride at a perceived Israeli loss against Hezbollah in 2006 — or frankly, just watching Turkey and Iran curb external hegemonic aspirations in the region. These events have inspired pride and honor in a part of the world that values these attributes highly.
This Mideast’s new centers of influence are progressive ones. Yet we still quite deliberately cast them as militant, destabilizing, worrisome. They may threaten our exclusive hegemony, but if our goal still remains access to resources, we are better served by befriending and cooperating with the region’s newest power brokers, than by alienating them at a time when our stock is falling globally.
The bottom line is that these regional actors are the only ones that can help preserve the peace and open up markets in the Middle East. If Washington does not recognize these developments, the new regional narrative will forge ahead without us, and we will be excluded until we learn some respect.
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It’s almost the end of the year now, and nearly two months since Aung San Suu Kyi was released, but I haven’t quite gotten over the dopamine rush of that event. I’ve been waiting a long time to see her a free woman. Not as single-mindedly and passionately, to be sure, as her loyal Burmese followers, but waiting, nonetheless, with some anxiety but also with a conviction of sorts, that she would be able to tough it out. That she would never ever give in to the junta, and one day they would have to let her go. Just like that.
So when I saw the video of her first appearance before her followers, I expected to feel lofty and profound emotions. But all I found myself doing was worrying that she might injure herself, or at least cut her fingers on the wicked looking spikes on top of the closed gate of the compound where she had been confined. She was behind the gate but someone had put a table or something for her to stand on, so you could see her quite clearly. She was smiling but those damned spikes were getting in her way. At one point she even rested her forearms on them. Then someone from the crowd handed up a bouquet of flowers. She tied a spray to her hair, it might have been her trademark jasmine. Whatever it was, it did the trick for me. All was right with the world.
When the first signs appeared that Suu Kyi would be released, but before the experts could hold forth on the possible reasons behind the junta’s motives for freeing her, quite a few reports (The New York Times, the BBC, The Inquirer.com, etc) pressed into service the convenient phrase “the power of the powerless” to provide at least a broad, partial explanation of why Suu Kyi had prevailed over her captors. Ambiguous as the explanation was it was certainly not incorrect. When she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 (accepted by her son, Alexander) the Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Francis Sejested, had described Suu Kyi as “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless”.
This clever oxymoron had been thought up by the Czech playwright, dissident and political leader, Vaclav Havel, as the title for an essay, “Moc bezmocnch”, in its original Czech, which appeared sometime in October 1978. It soon became one of those rare pieces of political reflection that outlive their time of birth and come to be regarded as a classic. The piece was written in a hurry, as Havel later mentioned, and was intended not as an academic or literary exercise, but as a call to action for all dissidents in Eastern Europe and the Soviet bloc. In fact after its publication in a volume of essays on freedom and power, Havel and some of the other contributors to the volume were arrested.
The essay’s impact on the frail political opposition in Eastern Europe was profoundly transformational. A Solidarity activist, Zbygniew Bujak who had for years had been trying to rally and organize workers in Polish factories explains why: “There came a moment when people thought we were crazy. Why were we doing this? Why were we taking such risks? Not seeing any immediate and tangible results we began to doubt the purpose of what we were doing… Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up…”
Havel’s plays are marvelously accessible. I saw a BBC (or ITV?) performance of Audience, an absurdist drama of an hour of Havel’s life after he was banned from the Czech theatre and forced to take a job in a brewery. It is the only thing on TV that’s ever made me deeply depressed and weak with laughter at the same time. On the other hand I have always found the dense 76 odd pages of “Power of the Powerless” heavy going. I have tried to cobble together a simple prcis of Havel’s thesis, as I consider it one of the few political documents from that period that is still relevant to understanding the “theoretical underpinnings” of repressive regimes and systems in our day and age. Moreover, and more crucially, the essay provides a genuinely doable, though painful and high-sacrifice way, for the oppressed to successfully challenge their oppressors.
The first and crucial thing that Havel does in his essay is define the nature of the regime in the Eastern Europe. It was not a traditional dictatorship or a classic totalitarian regime like Stalin’s or Mao’s. Havel called this post-totalitarianism, but emphasizes that it was still totalitarian in spite of the prefix “post”. Nonetheless, this system was able to present a superficial appearance of normalcy by putting on a bland faceless facade, and very cunningly doing away with the trademark “great leader” or “Fhrer figure”. But Havel tells us that in spite of its ordinariness this system was in was in fact the “dictatorship of a bureaucracy.”
Havel then opens people’s eyes as to the nature of the power that held them in subjugation. He maintained that this power should not be mistaken for the instruments of that power: the military, the secret-police, the bureaucracy, the propaganda, the censors, et al. Though the regime still had its torturers and labor camps and was still capable of tremendous and arbitrary cruelty, the true source of its power lay in its ability to coerce people in a variety of ways (even with consumerism) to “live within the lie”; i.e. to accept the complex web (or for sci-fi fans, the “matrix”) of lies it had created to provide a cover of justification for its perpetual hold on power.
Because post-totalitarianism was so fundamentally based on lies, Havel maintained that truth “in the widest sense of the word” was the most dangerous enemy of the system. The primary breeding ground for what might be understood as an opposition in the post-totalitarian system was “living within the truth”. This operated initially and primarily at the existential level, but it could manifest itself in publicly visible political actions as street demonstrations, citizens associations and so on. Havel mentions the creation of Charter 77 by Czech writers and intellectuals, who demanded that the government of Czechoslovakia recognize some basic human rights. It was a far from radical document but the Communist government cracked down hard on the authors and signatories. But it inspired subsequent efforts.
Whether Havel intended it or not his essay has a very Gandhian feel to it. Havel tells us that “living within the truth” (which one might accept as a form of satyagraha) “… is clearly a moral act, not only because one must pay so dearly for it, but principally because it is not self-serving. The risk may bring rewards in the form of a general amelioration in the situation, or it may not”. Havel emphasized that by “living within the truth” he did not just mean “products of conceptual thought,” or major political action, but that it could be “…any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: anything from a letter by intellectuals, to a workers strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration.”
My last post but one, was about the student demonstrations in Tibet in October, which I think fits in nicely with Havel’s “living with the truth” and as an expression of “the power of the powerless”. The Tibetan plateau hasn’t had a major rock concert yet but a young singer from Amdo, Sherten, has released a Bollywood style music video extravaganza, “The Sound of Unity” calling on all Tibetans from the three provinces of the “Land of Snows” to unite (against you know who). Even such counterrevolutionary characters from “the bad old days” as an aristocrat lord and lady from Lhasa (in full regalia) are conspicuously depicted in one segment to press home the message of Tibetan unity. Two other similar music videos (“The Telephone Rang”, and “Mentally Return”) have appeared, with similarly subversive messages calling on “ruddy face” Tibetans to unite and await the return of “The Snow Lion”. In spite of the effort by the lyricists to hide their political meaning behind euphemisms and double entendre, such compositions are not without risk. A year ago, the singer Tashi Dondrup, was arrested for his bestselling album, Torture Without Trace, and in 2008 the singer, Jamyang Kyi was incarcerated and tortured for “subversive activities”.
Havel saw the significance of such singers and musicians in social and political revolutions, and he supported the Czech rock group, The Plastic People of the Universe, which the Communist government had harassed and forced underground, and whose members were arrested and prosecuted in 1976. The Plastic People and Havel were in turn great admirers of the subversive music of the New York based Velvet Underground. Havel once told Salman Rushdie that the final non-violent revolution of 1989 that overthrew the Communist government was called the “Velvet Revolution” after the American band. Rushdie thought that Havel was joking but later found out that Havel had said exactly that, and quite seriously, to Lou Reed, the principal songwriter for the Velvet Underground.
Tibetan scholars, writers and students have, since the late nineties, effectively used the internet to communicate with each other and spread their writings around the world. They write near exclusively in Tibetan and Chinese, but the website High Peaks Pure Earth provides English translations of a representative sampling of their works. One of the most well known and outspoken bloggers has been the poet, Woeser, who recently received the “Courage in Journalism” award, but whose computer was hacked last month by the ultra-nationalist China Honker Union, and all her writing deleted. She lives in Beijing, under near constant surveillance. Chinese censors have regularly shut down many Tibetan language blogs and blog hosting services, both in Tibet and China, but Tibetan bloggers have somehow managed to keep on writing, though with ever increasing difficulty. One way many Tibetans have managed to circumvent censorship and shutdowns has been by posting on Chinese social networking sites, such as the popular renren.com.
All these activities reflect a broadening of the political and social opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet, and a growing sophistication in the way people have begun to exercise the “power of the powerless”, without it become an absolutely perilous or terminal exercise, as it had been before. Earlier, all public manifestations of opposition to Chinese rule was direct and confrontational. If we look at the Tibetan Uprising of 2008, and also those from 1987 onwards, nearly all of them have been direct clashes with Chinese central authority, with demonstrators waving the forbidden national flag of Tibet and shouting slogans calling for Tibetan independence and the return of the Dalai Lama. These demonstrations, or rather uprisings, have, on every occasion, been met with overwhelming force, shootings, beatings, imprisonment, labor camps, executions and disappearances. But this new phase of the struggle emerging in Tibet just might, because of its awkward (for Beijing) nuances, have a better chance of getting off the ground, before the authorities come up with a way to crush it.
For the first thirty years of exile the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community practiced “living in the truth” with unwavering resolution, holding on to the goal of Rangzen or “independence”, in spite of the disheartening turn of events from the mid-seventies when Communist China became an ally of the West against the Soviet Union, and when most intellectuals and celebrities in the free world (even western visitors to Dharmshala) then, appeared to be besotted with the thoughts of Chairman Mao.
The Dalai Lama was not welcome in the West as he is now. In fact he only managed to visit the USA in 1979, although he had been in exile for twenty years before that. He wasn’t, of course, under house arrest in India, but his movements were restricted. There were practically no Tibet support groups in the West and no influential supporters or lobbies in Washington DC or Brussels. But the Dalai Lama stuck to his guns, metaphorically speaking. If you walked into a home, monastery, office, classroom or restaurant in exile Tibetan society then, you would probably have noticed a dull green poster with a quotation (in English and Tibetan) by His Holiness, that eloquently expressed his moral resolve. It had no photograph of him and design-wise was minimal, but it was effective and genuinely inspirational. “Our way may be a long and hard one but I believe that truth and justice will ultimately prevail”.
And quite unexpectedly Tibetans did prevail – up to a point. With the fall of Berlin Wall and with China’s leaders openly confessing the failure of their economic and social programs, and with the opening up of Tibet to Western tourism, the world suddenly became aware of the enormous tragedy that had befallen the roof of the world. Everywhere around the world, political leaders, celebrities and the media, began to pay attention to the issue of Tibet. There were Beastie Boys benefit concerts, Richard Gere and Harrison Ford embraced the Dalai Lama and Hollywood stepped in with two feature films on Tibet. The high-water mark of this period was the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to His Holiness. The Nobel committee recognized that the Dalai Lama “in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet has consistently opposed the use of violence.”
But this period also saw the opening up of China and, more significantly “the China trade”. Slowly and very subtly, from every quarter imaginable, pressure began to be put on the Tibetan leadership to give up its goal of independence. China was going to become a democracy soon, anyway – the argument ran – and everything could be worked out then. Even the fairly successful Tibetan campaign in the US Congress to hold trade with China conditional to improvement of human rights conditions in Tibet, was effectively derailed by the Clinton administration. The president wanted to de-link human-rights and trade and induct China into the World Trade Organization. His administration essentially “persuaded” the Tibetan lobby (The International Campaign for Tibet or ICT) to go in for “constructive engagement” with Beijing. This term now became the new mantra in Tibetan activism circles. One support group in Britain that had campaigned successfully to get Holiday Inn to leave Lhasa had its knuckles rapped publicly by the director of ICT and told, in so many words, to engage China more constructively.
It was made attractively convenient and often profitable for exile Tibetans to “live within this lie”. ICT moved into a posh office suite. The exile government which had till then operated virtually on a shoestring now began to receive funding from a number of Western nations. Tibetan organizations, especially the Dalai Lama, began to receive invitations to attend all sorts of international confabs. But behind the gestures of sympathy, the invitations, the awards, the grants, and the aid, there often appeared to be a kind of unspoken condition that this might all go away if Tibetans raised the issue (or the “core issue” as the PRC menacingly calls it) of Tibetan independence.
The growing interest in Tibet’s unique traditional culture, art and spirituality also gave Tibet a more substantial presence on the international scene than other comparable conflict areas as East Turkestan (Xinjiang). But in a bizarre way this interest and enthusiasm for Tibetan culture also seemed to provide some in the West a kind of convenient rationalization to ignore the on-going destruction of that ancient nation and the real suffering and even potential extermination of its people. The late celebrity photographer, Galen Rowell, actually justified this approach in the introduction to his book, My Tibet : “To dwell on the agony the Chinese have imposed upon his (the Dalai Lama’s) land is to lose most of the essence of his being and his message to the world.” The Dalai Lama seemed to endorse this attitude by his statement that the preservation of Tibetan spiritual culture was more important than struggling for Tibetan political freedom.
It should be emphasized that much of this new attention and assistance, especially from small nations, some organizations and even leaders as Nancy Pelosi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was genuine, well-meant and unquestionably welcome. No doubt, the influence and reach of the “China lobby” (very broadly speaking) was widespread and effective, but it was not ubiquitous. There was a real possibility that the Tibetan leadership could have stuck to its fundamental national goal, and though encountering temporary setbacks and some cold-shoulders in Western capitals for a time, have hung on to a significant (and more genuine) segment of its support base, and eventually, as China dropped its “soft power” mask (as it is beginning to do right now) rebuilt its international support in a more real and meaningful way.
But Dharamshala chose to see the new reality as inescapable and unalterable, and used it as a part excuse, part self-fulfilling prophecy to warn the exile public that if the issue of independence were raised Tibetans would loose their support in the West, that the Dalai Lama would not be welcome anywhere anymore, and that Tibetan refugees might even be deported from the countries where they had found refuge.
As all exile Tibetans had till then considered themselves to be engaged in a life-and-death freedom struggle, some kind of “displacement activity” (as Konrad Lorenz would have put it) had to provided for them to deal with the new reality. Experts from various “conflict resolution”, “conflict management” and “conflict mediation” groups and institutions descended on Dharamshala to organize lectures, workshops and symposiums, which even members of the Tibetan cabinet were sometimes obliged to attended. The overriding thinking pushed at these gatherings was that that everything depended on finding a way to accommodate China. Hence anything that might impede the process (i.e. talk of independence) had to be summarily dropped. No one seemed to have caught on that these groups were not there to deliver justice, or even begin a process to seek justice for Tibet, but, as their organizational names made abundantly clear, were there to make “conflict” go away, even if that conflict was a necessary one between survival and extermination – even between good and evil. The simplest way of doing that, especially when one side was invincible, immovable, and a valued trading partner of the West, was to make the other and weaker side give up its dispute.
Besides Tibetan officialdom, even some individual Tibetans living and studying in the free world were seduced into this new way of thinking. A Tibetan MBA made the far-reaching discovery that doing business with China was the only way to save and modernize Tibet. One PhD deployed his newly acquired academic skills to re-interpreting Havel’s actual phrase “the power of the powerless” to mean the conference hopping, resume bolstering, grant seeking and other essentially self-serving activities, that currently passes for “activism” in a section of the Tibetan exile world. A few previous independence activists now set up “outreach” and “bridge building” projects inside Tibet (in collaboration with Chinese authorities, of course) and on a few occasions even spoke out publicly against Tibetan independence and those still contending for it.
The Indian novelist (The God of Small Things) and social thinker, Arundhati Roy, has commented on a similar phenomenon in India. In her talk/essay “Public Power in the Age of Empire” Roy mentions that one of the most insidious threats facing social movements in the sub-continent was, what she called, the “NGO-ization of resistance. She points out that the political resistance of the Indian public to globalization and its terrible impact on the victims of economic liberalization, especially farmers, coincided with the NGO boom in the late 1980s. She does concede that some NGO’s did valuable work, but insists that the NGO phenomenon should be considered in a broader political context. That the impression that NGO’s gave of contributing to social alleviation, that contribution was materially inconsequential and not the main part of their actual agenda:
Aung San Suu Kyi’s celebrated “Freedom From Fear” speech begins: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” The Tibetan exile government and certain Tibetan individuals in the free world do not have to fear the Chinese military, the PSB, slave labor camps, prisons, torture or execution, but they fear loosing access to opportunities and privileges they enjoy at present in the free world, which they have convinced themselves is conditional to their silence on the most crucial issue of Tibetan freedom and sovereignty. And that fear corrupts them and undermines the revolutionary struggle that is being carried on inside Tibet, and even outside still, in a small way, by a marginalized but committed number of Tibetans and friends.
After her release some media commentators suggested that Aung San Suu Kyi, might be sidelined in the present Burmese political scene, since she had been out of touch with the Burmese public and new leaders had emerged from within the opposition groups. But the ecstatic and universal public response to her release, even from young Burmese who had probably never actually seen her in person, demonstrated that she had lost none of her appeal. She was soft-spoken and levelheaded as always. She spoke politely of the military dictatorship and even respectfully of the army as a national institution. She made no calls for “regime change”, but on the fundamental issue of her life-long struggle for democracy there was no question that the power of the powerless would ever be relinquished.
In a telephone interview with The New York Times she made it clear that now she was free she intended to lead what she called a nonviolent revolution, rather than an incremental evolution. She said her use of the term “revolution” was justified because, “I think of evolution as imperceptible change, very, very slowly, and I think revolution as significant change. I say this because we are in need of significant change.”
On Day One of this new Congress, after years of professing great concern about the national debt, Republicans are abandoning pay-as-you-go budgeting, returning to the Bush-Cheney approach — endless borrowing. We cannot eliminate deficits by revisiting Republican trickle-down economics — this nonsense dug the deficit hole in the first place. Even Republican economists, like former CBO Director Doug Holtz-Eakin, concede that “there is no serious research evidence” to support the too frequent claim that “tax cuts pay for themselves.”
Yet reality doesn’t stop the mythmakers. Now this old concept has returned in the proposed Republican “Cut-Go” rule, which excludes any requirement that tax cuts be offset. This change demonstrates Republican indifference to our growing national debt except as an excuse for cutting current public initiatives that they wish to weaken or eliminate.
Our existing Democratic House rule ensures greater budget discipline than either Statutory PAYGO or the proposed Republican replacement. The Democratic rule requires each bill affecting direct spending or revenue to be deficit neutral. In contrast, Statutory PAYGO only requires the cumulative effect of all bills approved during an entire year to be deficit neutral. Thus, by replacing the House PAYGO rule with a weakened Republican rule, a Republican House and a complicit Senate can pass deficit-bloating bills that lower revenue throughout the year — not worrying about paying for the additional spending until year’s end, at which point, it may be impossible to do so except through statutory sequestration that enacts across the board spending cuts to priorities like Medicare and education loans without having to assume specific responsibility for what has been cut.
Another, equally troubling result of this Republican “Cut-Go” rule is the incentive it creates to convert spending programs–that would otherwise need to be offset–into tax expenditure provisions that do not and which are subject to no accountability through the Budget process. Already rampant and criticized by the bipartisan Presidential Fiscal Commission, this spending through the Tax Code is usually an inefficient and ineffective means of accomplishing a goal. Currently, spending through the Tax Code costs over $1 trillion with virtually no oversight; if the Republican rule is implemented, we can expect that figure to dramatically increase, all of it ballooning the deficit. Ironically, just last August, incoming Speaker Boehner himself lamented the proliferation of these unjustified tax breaks saying, “We need to take a long and hard look at the undergrowth of deductions, credits, and special carve-outs that our Tax Code has become.”
Republicans are just like the fellow who bellies up to the bar, asking for just one more tax break for his buddies, while declaring, “put it on my tab.” But its really our tab. All Americans will be indebted for their addiction to endless borrowing for endless tax breaks. Rejecting sound fiscal planning right at the start of their leadership signals their lack of seriousness.
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Shah of Iran's younger son kills himself in US
His brother, former crown prince Reza Pahlavi, said the family had been thrown into “great sorrow” by the news.
“It is with immense grief that we would like to inform our compatriots of the passing away of Prince Alireza Pahlavi,” .
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was ousted in Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Alireza Pahlavi was 44.
“Like millions of young Iranians, he too was deeply disturbed by all the ills fallen upon his beloved homeland, as well as carrying the burden of losing a father and a sister in his young life,” the statement read.
Alireza Pahlavi was studying philology and ancient Iranian studies at Harvard University in Massachusetts, the AFP news agency reported.
Leila Pahlavi, the late shah's daughter, died in 2001 in a London hotel room aged 31. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi died in Egyptian exile in 1980.
A man in the US state of Texas has had his robbery conviction overturned after serving 30 years in jail – longer than anyone in Texas cleared by DNA.
Cornelius Dupree Jr was jailed from 1979 to 2010 as part of a 75-year sentence for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.
The 51-year-old was freed on parole in July 2010. DNA test results proved his innocence roughly one week later.
A judge has now officially overturned Mr Dupree's conviction.
“It's a joy to be free again,” Mr Dupree said outside the Dallas County courtroom.
Mr Dupree told the CNN network he had “mixed emotions” about the hearing considering how long he had been in jail.
“I must admit there is a bit of anger but there is also joy, and the joy overrides the anger,” he added.
Mr Dupree was charged in 1979 with being one of two men who raped and robbed a 26-year-old woman.
He received a 75-year sentence for robbery but was never tried on the rape charge.
Mr Dupree and Anthony Massingill, who was also convicted for the crime, were identified by the victim following the event.
Massingill, who is also serving time for a separate rape charge, is expected to have his conviction related to the 1979 crime cleared as well, according to the Innocence Project, a public policy organisation.
Mr Dupree served more years in prison than anyone who has been freed by DNA evidence in Texas.
The state has exonerated 41 wrongly convicted inmates through the use of DNA since 2001 – more than any other US state.
Only two other individuals cleared by DNA evidence anywhere in the US have spent more time in prison, the Innocence Project said.
One man in the state of Florida spent 35 years in prison, while another inmate spent 31 years in a Tennessee jail.